Monday, January 23, 2017

Cowboys Ponder Their Own Free Agents

Checking In On The Dallas Stars

We certainly haven't spent much time on the Stars here on the blog, but with all of the TV time dedicated to them it seemed like a fair time to check the bad news.  And there is considerable bad news for where this team presently sits in the standings.  Their season is in a very disappointing spot after 48 games with just 47 points and only 19 wins.

There are a number of reasons for this, but they are currently around a 16% chance of post-season play this spring, which seems about 80% lower than we assumed when the puck dropped on the year.

Can it be saved?  Sure.  But, with each passing performance, it seems clear that the hockey being played in no way resembles the hockey they put out there for much of last season.  We can speculate what is health, what is poor roster assembly, and what is just poor performances from players, but the facts add up to some very disconcerting views that I tried to express on these following graphics.

They are each a look from a monthly perspective, the downward trends in 4 vitally important metrics that all look rather similar:





All of them have a similar trend, but I am positive some of you are wondering what the rankings are to verify they have gone from a very good NHL team that won the West last year to a team that has a 16% chance of making the Top 8 in the West this year.

So, here are the rankings for each of those 4 vital metrics:

This chart will show you why many of us don't always point at goaltending as the issue.  They won the west last year with saves at 25th.  They had a style and won with it and were one game from the Western Conference Finals.  I am not saying you should aspire to have poor goalies, but they figured out how to deal with it.

The issues are rather clear.  They were Top 3 in puck possession and now are 18th.  They were 4th in Power Play and are now 19th.  They were 10th in penalty kill and are now one game from 30th.  These are their issues.  And the puck possession and power play speak to the old cliches about "your best players - and highest compensated players - must be your best players".  

Simply put, they don't "boss games" anymore.  They don't take over with their special players.  Again, there may be health considerations and supporting cast issues, but when you look at this whole thing is built around that dominant 5 of Klingberg, Spezza, Benn, Seguin, and whoever joins them as a 5th on the Top PP unit (Sharp, Eaves, Eakin) that seems to be a heavy reason for the state of affairs.  

And perhaps it starts with asking Esa Lindell to replace Alex Goligoski to make sure Benn, Seguin, and Spezza have the puck more.  But, regardless, the numbers above show that regardless of WHY it has happened, it has happened.  The Stars spot in the league was Top 5 when it was also Top 5 in power play and puck possession.  

But, when both fell from Top 5 to 18th and 19th, so did the Stars spot in the standings.  Nearly identically.  

It certainly makes you feel the ominous clouds coming with regards to a significant shake-up to try to save this season.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Decoding Linehan - Green Bay - Divisional Playoffs

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) is pictured during Cowboys NFL football playoff game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Sunday, January 15, 2017. (Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News)

Decoding Linehan

There is an old story in the hockey world about the Edmonton Oilers dynasty. When they were just starting out together as a group of kids, they had to climb their way to the top of the league. Sitting at the top was the old dynasty, the New York Islanders, who were winning their fourth straight title at the expense of Wayne Gretzky and those kids from Edmonton in the 1983 Stanley Cup Finals.
The young Oilers were disappointed that they hadn't quite figured things out in losing to the old Islanders, but they knew they were close. That idea was cemented in their heads when they walked by the winners' dressing room and didn't see a celebration, but rather 20 exhausted guys with barely enough energy to congratulate each other. The Oilers lost, but knew from that moment -- when they hardly felt winded -- that it was just a matter of time.
Now, this isn't to say the Packers are a dynasty, or that Aaron Rodgers is old. But it did pop in my mind when I saw the demeanor of the two Cowboys rookies that this team is now built around, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, after the game Sunday night. They looked bummed, but unfazed. If the Cowboys were allowed to play again today, they are fresh, ready, and eager. In other words, those two young lads know their time is coming for playoff success. It is just a matter of time.

Those two, Prescott and Elliott, are the prism through which we should view the 2016 Dallas Cowboys season. There were many other players doing many other things, but in the end, if this doesn't feel like the sunrise of a new era of Cowboys football to you, I think you are missing it. We can question the way we got to this point and the allocation of resources in certain areas at the expense of others, but given that you cannot unspill milk, this is the course they are on and it appears to be very good.
Now, let's get to the more pressing issue of why they are not playing anymore football. As we told you last week, the offense had a much easier matchup than the defense, but with that came much more responsibility to put out a flawless performance.
Let's look at the initial numbers that often indicate success:


Thirty-one points, 429 yards, 55 percent on third downs and one giveaway. Those are all numbers you would have taken on Saturday night to feel like you were definitely going to win Sunday. Twenty-five first downs? And 6.7 yards per play? Only nine possessions the whole game? These all look great.
I said all week that the game was going to be a race to 35 points. I said 30 points might not be enough. I also said that settling for field goals might get you beat. This is not an exercise in self-congratulating, but rather a reminder that numbers are impressive in a shootout and the game was just a hair away. But basically, I want to make this point: 429 yards and 31 points do not amount to an A+ if you know you need to maximize every opportunity.
If settling for a field goal one time too many, or giving Green Bay a 10th possession instead of nine is the margin that gets you beat, then yes, even the offense has to ask difficult questions of itself.
Those numbers above are great. They will lead to victory in about 80-90 percent of situations. Unfortunately, that last 10-20 percent is the margin in the NFL playoffs.
So what is the most legitimate critique of Sunday's effort? For me, it is that the Cowboys had an unstoppable force against a defense that has no idea how to slow it down, and Dallas elected to not destroy its opponent with it.
/Staff Photographer 
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) is pictured during Cowboys NFL football playoff game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Sunday, January 15, 2017. (Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News)
We talked about this in the Linehan preview last week:
Since 2013, the Cowboys have played the Packers four times. In each game, they ran all day and had no issues whatsoever. They ran and ran and ran. They have run the ball with this massive offensive line against the Packers and Dom Capers 99 times in four games and have rolled up an absurd 641 yards.
That comes out to 6.48 yards per carry. Oh, and the Cowboys are 1-3 in those four games.
Well, make it 123 times for 779 yards in five matchups -- 6.33 yards per carry! And a 1-4 record against Green Bay.
So let's go back to the question/critique of the entire offensive operation: Even with your 31 points and 429 yards, why isn't the answer to nearly every play-calling situation (within reason) to run Elliott behind this offensive line you have built?
The Cowboys are a running team. They claim that, identify that and lead all rushing categories. And yet, when it is third-and-2, they pass. Even when there is no reason not to give the ball to Elliott twice. I can understand the premise if the opposition was stopping you. The Giants have a chance. Surely, there are others. But Green Bay? You can barely find one play in five meetings where Green Bay is stopping the Cowboys' running game. And yet, the Cowboys are passing in run situations with the season on the line.
I really don't understand.
Here are some very disturbing examples from an offensive day when so much went right. Your quarterback played very well. Your pass protection was decent. Your receivers caught the ball. You just didn't feed Zeke to the maximum level available.
Third play of the game. Cowboys run wide on Green Bay. They know Elliott can beat this team to the corner at will. He stumbles and only gets seven yards. I contend that this is a sliver from turning into a 60-yard touchdown run.
Another one. Some impressive runs with a fullback in this game. Look at this. The Packers insist on playing nickel because they aren't trying to stop your run. They have conceded that before the snap. Their entire philosophy is based on poaching big plays and making you string 12 plays together without a mistake. Meanwhile, you bust it out to midfield for 22 yards.
Then, a middle zone, where Zeke knows he can bounce it outside anytime he wants and go get near the sticks. It was repeated over and over in the two meetings with Green Bay. Doug Free might have got away with a hold there, by the way.
This one is devastating. Cowboys chop three bodies to the ground, and if Zack Martin can get around Free, this might be a huge run. As it stands, Zeke picks up another first down. The Packers are now exhausted in the fourth quarter and the runs are getting easier.
Inside zone, and they can't stop you. They seriously are giving up a huge gap every time the Cowboys run.
So as you go through the tape and barely find a bad run all day, you must return to the question: What are you going to do on third-and-2? Second-and-1? Third-and-3?
Pass all three times.  
This is the one that gets me -- and I hope you know I am seldom the "play-calling second-guesser." But, first possession, third-and-2. They cannot stop you on the ground. Why would you not pound Zeke twice to show intent on what you are all about? Instead, your rookie quarterback is throwing at double coverage. You settle for a field goal and are already playing into Green Bay's game plan.
Dangerous throw. It did knock Morgan Burnett out of the game, but it was one of a few risky throws by Prescott when the down/distance indicated there was no reason to throw your third-best pitch.
Here is the Micah Hyde interception. The killer here is that it is second-and-1 and Zeke just got you nine. Any pass is showing mercy. This is a Dak decision -- run-pass option -- and Dez Bryant does no favors here by missing his guy. But this is something Tony Romo struggled with over the years (in fact, the 2013 Green Bay game was lost by a similar Romo decision). It is second-and-1. You have a hammer. And the Packers watch film, too.
Points off the board when there was really no reason to believe Green Bay was going to handle another few runs. Run it right through the back of the end zone.
And, finally, the last drive. Maybe the most important decision of the game. It is third-and-3. You have told us what you are all about all season. You have one call to either win the game, or settle for a tie and put the ball back in Rodgers' hands.
You decide to go empty and call the slant to Dez. The pass is there, but the pass protection breaks down. Green Bay gets to your quarterback with four rushers and one affects the throw before another bats it down.
If it works, you might win. If it doesn't, guys like me (in our mom's basement, no doubt) will wonder why Zeke isn't there for at least a play-fake and protection help. Or, go crazy, and give it to him twice, move the chains, and go win the game.
In other words, if you are going to lose to the Packers, at least make them prove they can stop your running game ONCE. If they do, you lost on your best pitch.
Instead, despite 31 points and 429 yards, I felt like the Cowboys' offense allowed the Packers' defense to survive a game it had no real power to survive. People will say that being down 21-3 took this off the table. I will submit that I just showed you several situations where that didn't apply AND that this thinking helped put you down 21-3 in the first place.
Rant over.


Much like the 1994 NFC Championship Game -- a gutting loss that many call Troy Aikman's best game -- I thought Dak Prescott was excellent. Like Aikman that day, it doesn't mean he was perfect, and it doesn't mean he wouldn't love a few decisions or throws back.
But it does mean that you can learn a lot about a quarterback with everything on the line and adversity hitting you in the mouth. Will you cave in, or play your best until the very end? I love Prescott's effort and am delighted about everything he displayed in 2016 -- without qualification. From his first preseason game until his last playoff snap, he proved he has a real future.
Blitzer coming right at you and you stand tall to deliver a ball to the right spot for a big touchdown. This is what made Romo his money. And now Prescott is doing it as a rookie.
Important third down here and nothing is open. So, your dual-threat guy can beat them in many ways. Here is another. He made a number of big plays in that second half and almost brought them all the way back.


Look at all of the production, especially in 21 and 22 personnel, and almost no runs out of shotgun for Elliott. I believe two of those three shotgun runs are Prescott scrambles. I think they got away from being the team they were built to be -- and they still scored 31 points on 429 yards of offense.


This was an amazing season from an elite offense. And yet, the final chapter suggests the Cowboys still aren't positive who they are. That will all get better with experience and they can grow into their squad, but I think the final narrative of "Rodgers beat us" is partially true, and partially too simple for me.

I would love to see how this game looks if the offensive philosophy was, "We will stop running our best options when, and only when Green Bay shows it can stop them." Obviously, we will never know.
I remember how Emmitt Smith and the Cowboys took down that same Green Bay squad in the 1995 NFC Championship Game. Smith had 35 carries (37 touches). Now, they were never down 21-3, but if you enter the game determined to answer every question with this O-line and running back, you never fall behind 21-3 in the first place.
I thought Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan had a remarkable year designing this offense. But I also think they lost the plot a bit out of fear of Green Bay's quarterback. And that affected their own offensive play-calling in an adverse way.
Maybe the young pups will make sure they never let that happen again.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Morning After: Packers 34, Cowboys 31

The Morning After

As we sort through a gutting end to an unexpectedly amazing Cowboys season, perhaps we should start with the most simple truth there is: At this time of year, with one game to decide your fate, there are details everywhere that make a small difference. And that small difference is the margin between winning and losing. Inches. Mere inches. It is said football is a game of inches, because for decades, these postseason battles in which both teams felt like they earned a victory have ended in similar fashion.
One team survives. They make one more play. They use those last precious moments to figure out one more score. And then they celebrate with the entire pot in the middle of the table.
The other team falls to the ground. They fought their tails off. They were sure they earned a better fate. They are simply gutted with the verdict that claims they were second-best, because they know they were the better team.
Every franchise that is successful knows that in order to win a few trophies, you have to have your heart broken countless times. That is just the way it is in a sport where 12 teams get to go to the postseason -- somewhere the other 20 teams would trade anything to go -- but by the end of the month, 11 of them have had their successful seasons converted into tears and misery yet again.
These are the stakes at the biggest table. The perennial losers never risk their hearts because they are already a few weeks into their offseason, no doubt on a beach, somewhere hot. But the winning teams slug it out for our entertainment, waging unforgettable classics with the twists and turns that will be imprinted on our minds for decades to come.
Fair? Don't be silly. There is nothing fair about playoff football. Two teams that have had seasons to be proud of meet on a field only one will leave happy. The game of inches will be decided by just a few. And on this occasion, the inches did not favor the Dallas Cowboys.
I assume we will talk about this game, a 34-31 loss to the Green Bay Packers, for a long, long time. The Cowboys, as the No. 1 seed, were rested and ready to deal with the prospect of winning two home games on their way to a Texas Super Bowl, in a season where it appeared the NFC was without another season-long heavyweight. The usual suspects had either missed the playoffs altogether, or had endured enough attrition that 2016 was not their year -- all while there was unanimous agreement that the Cowboys had never been healthier, or in better form.
But Green Bay had come in as the hot team in the NFC, having won seven in a row on the trot. One thing agreed upon all week long was the importance of a fast start to keep Aaron Rodgers from dictating the feel of the game and putting the Cowboys behind. This could affect everything from nerves to play-calling, and it was vital to get off to a fast start. The opportunity would be virtually assured, because the Packers insist on deferring the snap.
The start was not particularly fast. The Cowboys moved the ball all day on a per-play basis and were never really slowed down. The Green Bay defense gives up yards every week and is simply playing the gamble that, at some point of a 12-play drive, you will allow them a big play or accommodate them with a self-inflicted error. Sunday's game offered both.
First drive, on third-and-2, the Cowboys are already in range and they try to push the ball down the field to Dez Bryant. It is a statement of intent, but it comes with the consequence of settling for a field goal if it doesn't connect. It doesn't. And in a game like this, a field goal is not necessarily a successful drive.
The Packers slice right down the field and get their touchdown.
Second drive: The Cowboys easily move the ball back into Packers territory before they are handed a penalty that, I will confess, is one I never see enforced. The nature of the rule that stopped a drive and made Brice Butler the target of rage from many is not to preserve the integrity of the huddle, but rather to not allow a team to try to deceive their opponent with substitutions. Once you run players onto the field -- in this case, 11 personnel -- you cannot circle back off right before the play. You run on, the defense gets a chance to match your substitutes, and then the play happens. When Butler ran on, circled and ran off, putting the Cowboys back into 21 personnel, the officials threw the rare flag. It certainly appeared to be a strict interpretation of the rule, but one where the Cowboys may call a timeout if they had it over again. Regardless, they punt and get nothing.
The Packers again go 90 yards down the field and get another touchdown.
Third drive: The Cowboys feature a rare drop by Terrance Williams, which almost became a turnover. On third down, Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers were able to affect the throw, and Dallas goes through its only drive all game in which it went three-and-out. In fact, on every other drive, the Cowboys moved the chains no fewer than twice.
The Packers again go 80 yards right down the field and get yet another touchdown.
It's now 21-3.
In a game where you simply could not afford a slow start, with 7:37 to go in the first half, Green Bay had gone touchdown, touchdown and touchdown to put its lead at 18 points. This season, teams down 18 points had a 2-89 record. You could argue the hole was just too deep already.
But that is where a Cowboys fan can be very proud today. Because this team, which prided it self on "Fight" and a resolve that was unshakable all year, fought its tail off.
The rookie tandem of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, in particular -- whom this season seemed to be all about -- accounted for themselves brilliantly for most of the afternoon.
Prescott made countless plays under duress and in tight spots as he tried to help the team dig out of the hole. He wasn't perfect, and there were a few throws he would like back, but once he found his rhythm, the Cowboys' offense again looked like the machine it had been since September. On their final six drives, they scored five times with three touchdowns and two field goals.  Unfortunately, his interception to Micah Hyde on what appeared to be well-scouted defensive play took points off the board and, in a game like this, arguably helped decide the outcome.
Elliott was very impressive. The narrative will certainly revolve around not using him enough, but from this view, that is more a byproduct of being down 18 points early in the game. We all know that running the ball is best done to deliver knockout punches. They lost most of that with the deficit. In fact, you could argue that it is actually a bit of a marvel that they got their running back 23 touches in a game that was quickly in peril.
As both of those young stars look to their second years, I would feel great confidence in more of the same. That duo was a great portion of dominant offense this season and its theme -- repeatable and sustainable -- in the way they went about their business. A team that was capable of magic tricks beat them, but when you talk probabilities and the ability to win seven or eight out of 10 meetings, you have to trust the physical bulldozing capabilities of what Dallas is doing over a quarterback creating miraculous moments. History favors the Cowboys' build.
But nobody wants to hear about 2017 or 2019 right now. They want to talk about this game and how it got away.
Green Bay had the ball after the Cowboys' furious comeback at 28-28. There was 4:08 to go and it appeared the game was now about whether Rodgers could get one more touchdown. Anything less would put a Green Bay defense back on the field that had nothing left against a Dallas offense that was rolling downhill.
They had to settle for less when DeMarcus Lawrence destroyed a Ty Montgomery running play to the left for a massive loss of five and took them out of supposed field goal range. One incompletion later, and Green Bay faces a fourth-and-12 from the 37-yard line. Mason Crosby is a fine kicker, but kicking over 50 with the game on the line has not been his specialty. Crosby had been 0-4 all-time in kicks over 50 to tie the game or take a lead in the fourth quarter.
The 56-yard field goal started right and barely got through -- 31-28, Green Bay.
But the Cowboys now had 1:33 to go back down the field and win. Again, Green Bay had been allowing drive after drive since Dallas got in rhythm.
Prescott knew the game was one drive from the win column. He needed 75 yards and got 35 yards on the first two snaps: 24 to Williams, 11 to Jason Witten. First down now with 48 seconds to go.
The spike here is under plenty of critique today. I understand the view that it was not needed. But I also see the idea -- rookie quarterback, lots happening, let's recollect our thoughts here with half of the task completed. Remember, the Cowboys were not playing for the tie. They thought, at that moment, they were going to score a touchdown. They were going to finish the fight right there. So they spiked the ball on first down.
Seven yards to Beasley on second down. Third-and-3 from the 33. Four-man rush from Green Bay, and with Peppers and Matthews working the backside with a stunt, Nick Perry is in the throwing lane on a slant to Dez Bryant that had worked all day. Again, Green Bay concedes yards looking for a play or stop. They got the stop when Matthews hit Prescott as Perry batted down the ball with his club. Incomplete pass, clock stopped. And Dan Bailey has to settle for a game-tying field goal from range.
It's 31-31 with 35 seconds to go.
You know what happens next. A series of moments. A 17-yard screen play where Green Bay catches Dallas in a big blitz. A Jeff Heath sack that was the play of the game, in terms of Rodgers holding on to a ball that was in one hand as he gets blindsided. Again, probabilities suggest most quarterbacks fumble it right there and the game is lost.
And then, on third-and-20 with 12 seconds left from their own 32, Rodgers makes magic happen again. I would love to see the All-22 this morning, but I will have to wait. I assume the Cowboys feared a Hail Mary and dropped too many defenders deep beyond the field goal range. A three-man rush was not enough to apply pressure, and it sure looks like there could have been a holding call on T.J. Lang against David Irving. Regardless, the throw was something seldom witnessed, and the catch by tight end Jared Cook right in front of a horrified Cowboys bench stunned everyone.
He got in, but how? How did Byron Jones not seal that off? How did the throw get there from a quarterback running to his left? How?
This is the type of play the playoffs produce. Two heavyweights throwing punches for three hours, and one play claims the entire game.
Crosby then hits a 51-yarder, making him now 2-for-6 in those situations. The only two kicks of his career of that magnitude happened 10 minutes apart.
Green Bay cannot believe its win. Dallas cannot believe its dream season disappeared on a third-and-20.
These are the playoffs. This is why we love and hate this sport.
I am confident Dallas will be back in this spot very soon. It has a few remaining weaknesses that will be addressed. This is now a young team with a bright future.
But the present is going to sting for quite a bit. Any team that goes to the playoffs with regularity has a list of disasters to remember that surrounds the occasional trophy. It is part of the struggle. It hurts and leaves a mark, but it comes with the territory.
The problems with being a playoff team are the gutting losses that usually follow instead of parades. A real shame anyone had to lose that. The Cowboys lost an instant classic. And those young stars will remember that and be better for the next time.
And yes, I am confident there will be a next time.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Decoding Linehan - Green Bay Preview

Tuesday and Wednesday, we are going to look at the Cowboys' matchups for Sunday's divisional playoff game against the Green Bay Packers and discuss what the Cowboys can do to reach the NFC Championship Game.  We review the matchup in Week 6, look at the current affairs of each side, and try to imagine some objectives for Scott Linehan and Rod Marinelli.  
I don't wish to spoil tomorrow's piece, but let's just say Linehan is going to have a much easier strategy session than Marinelli.  The defense is going to have to figure quite a few problems out that they will be presented with on Sunday.  But, the offense?  They just have to be themselves.
Dallas has one of the best offenses in the NFL, and if it continues to perform at those levels, there is no reason it cannot play in a Super Bowl in 3 weeks.  You could argue the Cowboys never played better than in this Week 6 battle in Green Bay, and you could also argue that this playoff game may resemble the Pittsburgh game in that both offenses were able to score at will - and therefore, the team with the ball last might be the one to win.  This game could have an NBA feel to it.  One stop might be enough to win the game.
But, let's focus on Scott Linehan's situation here for a moment.  Some easy thoughts to start:
1) Green Bay is a high-risk defense.  They will concede a ton of yardage and not seem to care, because the overall philosophy for Dom Capers up there for several years is that yards are just numbers.  He is trying to find takeaways.  The best way to get takeaways are sacks and pressure.  And the best way to generate pressure is to leave your corners on islands.  This often leads to a lot of chances for the offense, and he is playing the odds that if you are going to drive the ball, you will at some point either get reckless with the ball or fail on a 3rd down.  The good news here is that the Cowboys were great in both regards this season.  They never turned the ball over and were quite efficient on 3rd downs.  The Cowboys were also able to chase the Packers out of their blitzes.
2) The Packers don't have the ability to man-up with their current corner personnel.  You could argue that their only healthy corner this year - LaDarius Gunter - was their 5th corner when the season began.  Sam Shields is their lead and makes $12 million a year.  He has played in 1 game.  Then, Damarious Randall and Quinton Rollins are their top draft picks from 2015 and both played in 10 games.  So, from a standpoint of their top 3 corners, they have lost 29 starts among them in just this season.  That leaves Gunter, Randall (back again), and Micah Hyde to play corner for them.  This is better than what it was in Week 6, but there are some significant matchup issues.
3) The Packers' pass rush was pretty good at times this season, but not now.  On paper, Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Mike Daniels, and Nick Perry looks scary.  But, Matthews will have surgery when the season ends on a shoulder that has been jacked up since their trip to Philadelphia in November, and he appears to be a shell of himself.  Nick Perry broke his hand and has had to play with a club on it, which has not helped his effectiveness.  Julius Peppers does have a few moments a game at his advanced age, but their pass rush is not going to overwhelm Dallas at all.  
4) Ezekiel Elliott ran all day against them in Week 6 and did not have Dez Bryant to affect the safeties.  It will be tempting for the Cowboys to look around at all of the inviting matchups, but they should not lose the plot.  Elliott and the running game should allow them to hold the ball and keep Aaron Rodgers on the sideline.  This is the easiest route to victory.  They need to plaster that all over the gameplan so they don't forget when the adrenaline starts pumping.  This should be a game to shoot for 40 minutes of possession time.  Yes, there are chances in the passing game.  But, you will want to fight the urge to go looking to take advantage of them, because your best opportunity is feeding Zeke.  
5) Cole Beasley is a massive mismatch.  I know most people will think Dez is your matchup issue, but I don't believe that in this game.  Gunter is very solid against physical receivers (even Julio Jones), but speed gives them fits as a group.  Micah Hyde inside against Beasley was a matchup that was very successful in Week 6.  The Packers have no better options in the slot and this should be even better on a fast track.  
Here was the damage Beasley did back on October 16th, thanks to another John Daigle chart.  He had 6 catches on 6 targets and 2 touchdowns of the 5 he had all year.
Cole Beasley Route Chart - Week 6
Let's look at a few: 
This first one was a quick hitter to beat a Green Bay blitz.  As you can see, Green Bay is chasing out a LB to try to deal with Brice Butler and Cole Beasley.  That goes quite poorly for Dom Capers.
So, this is Micah Hyde lining up in man against Beasley on the goal-line.  Asking him or just about any corner to handle this seems like a very poor job of tactics from Green Bay.  And, Dallas takes easy advantage of it.  They are in man because they need all of the manpower they have to deal with the goal-line runs of Elliott.
Here is 3rd and 8.  They know that the Packers are in 2-deep.  They know that the middle is open and that the Packers are man-up with Hyde on Beasley.  This is a massive mismatch for the Cowboys and look how easy they can convert this as Hyde can't handle the initial release.  
Again, 2-Deep, man under.  Beasley gets out on the WR screen and with a pulling Tyron taking out the middle LB who cannot run with Beasley anyway, this one is another big gainer up the sideline.  
Finally, the 4th-quarter kill shot that put this out of reach.  Play-action to hold them with the running game and then exposing an easy throw mismatch to the pylon.  This is Beasley versus Gunter which is basically a safety trying to run with Beasley in a phone booth.  Good luck.  
Now, as you can see, all of this is based off Green Bay trying to deal with the running game.  
Here is the staggering truth.  Since 2013, the Cowboys have played the Packers 4 times.  In each game, they ran all day and had no issues whatsoever.  They ran and ran and ran.  They have run the ball with this massive offensive line against the Packers and Dom Capers 99 times in 4 games and have rolled up an absurd 641 yards.
That comes out to 6.48 yards per carry.  Oh, and the Cowboys are 1-3 in those 4 games.  Now, we could argue whether or not there are mitigating circumstances that explain this, but the point remains that running the ball is key.  It is not the only key. 
That said, it is interesting that in Week 6, Elliott ran all day out of 12 and 13 personnel.  In fact, they ran out of 11 personnel on 9 occasions for 15 yards.  No, this was a day for big personnel, and the Cowboys were able to break some open in the 2nd half.  
This one is easy.  Up the middle and then bounce outside and beat the contain man to the corner and he is out of the gate.  There is very little a defense can do against this speed to the outside when they overcommit to the middle.  
Here is 12 personnel again.  We wonder how much of this changes without Geoff Swaim who was a big part of this day's production.  More 11 personnel on Sunday, we assume, which has been the Cowboys' best look for the 2nd half of the year.  
One more out of 12 personnel.  There is nothing at the 2nd level with the linebackers that should scare the Cowboys at all.  The Packers are built for finding big plays, not stopping long drives.
Check out the personnel groupings and chart from that game:
The Cowboys offense cannot fall behind.  It must start quickly, because a 10-0 Green Bay lead might change all sorts of things in the stadium.  It simply must take control early - as in Lambeau, because if it does, the boa constrictor that is the Dallas offense will begin to suffocate the Green Bay ideas.  
The offense must convert on 3rd downs and be careful with the football.  It is a delicate balance.
Garrett certainly wants to hold the ball and dominate the clock.  But, that means long drives.  And long drives require 3rd down precision and mistake-free football without penalties and turnovers.
The Cowboys have done it time and time again this season.  But, in the playoffs, none of that matters.  For reference, please check out the "Decoding Linehan" from after the first game, including the Dallas success against the Green Bay blitz.  There are plenty more videos to look at to prepare you for this.  
We have showed you some matchup advantages for Sunday and there are several.  But, in Dak Prescott's first playoff game, all eyes will be on him to see how this offense executes in these high pressure spots.  They know they can do it, they just need to actually do it.  
Linehan has some very interesting ideas and matchups that should work against an inferior defense from Green Bay.  Tomorrow, we look at Marinelli's decidedly more difficult task.