Wow. What else can you say? No Tony Romo, no Dez Bryant, no Orlando Scandrick - no problem as the Dallas Cowboys just rolled over the Green Bay Packers in their house. They are now assured of coming out of the bye as the sole leader of the NFC East. If someone had told us that back when Tony Romo was being taken off the field after suffering a cracked vertebra, they would have been laughed out of the room.
But here we are. And we continue to learn more about this team. They say that you learn more from failure than success, but this way seems so much better. Here are some of the lessons that stand out from that most enjoyable 30-16 win.
Yes, this offensive line is something special. We heard it all week. Green Bay had the best rushing defense in the NFL, and it wasn’t even close. Some thoughtful people noticed that they had not really faced much of a challenge from any of the teams they had faced so far, but this was still deemed to be a real test of the Cowboys’ vaunted rushing attack.
So much for that. Dallas rolled up 191 yards at a 5.8 yard per carry clip. Ezekiel Elliott had his best game yet with 157 yards on the ground and two carries over 20 yards. This was the plan all along, and it is working brilliantly.
Dak has not hit any wall yet. Yes, Dak Prescott finally threw an interception. But not until he had broken the all-time NFL record for most passes without one to start a career. And he had three touchdown passes, a ratio that will usually lead to more victories than defeats. His selection in the draft looks like it will go down as one of, if not the, best picks ever made by the Cowboys. And with Elliott not far behind, and Maliek Collins and Anthony Brown already making some serious contributions, this draft class is already looking incredible. Meanwhile, there’s Jaylon Smith waiting in the wings.
But Prescott is the big story. And that is not without its downside, of course, as the controversy over whether to give Tony Romo the starting job back just grows with every superior Prescott performance. But, as Jerry Jones has observed, that is the kind of problem you want to have.
Don’t even think about single coverage for the Beas. Last season, one of the myriad complaints about the receivers was that the rest of the corps did not step up when Dez Bryant was injured. This year, that is not the case. Terrance Williams continues to make up for his poor decision-making in the lone loss this season, but Cole Beasley has become the leading weapon. He caught two touchdown passes and totaled 58 yards on six receptions. His second touchdown was almost comical in how badly he beat the defender.
He is nearly unstoppable out there. Just ask a teammate who is a pretty fair receiver himself.
Maybe there is a way around the lack of a pass rush. The Cowboys only managed to get to Aaron Rodgers once (although it was a big one, stopping them from the one-yard line and getting the ball away from them as David Irving scored the strip-sack recovery trifecta), and still won by 14 points. They often resorted to a three man rush, putting the pressure on the secondary to limit the damage.
And it worked. Perhaps that is because that offensive line only allowed one sack of Prescott in return (there was a second sack credited to the Packers team defense, but that was on the fumble Prescott had while completely untouched). Maybe that is the key, like turnovers. Don’t lose the battle in who gets the most sacks, and let the offense work while the defense remains stingy with giving up points. Holding an NFL team to 16 points is usually good enough to win, especially when you are scoring 30 yourself. Yes, you are much better with a consistent pass rush. But just maybe Dallas has found a different solution here.
Finally, THIS. TEAM. IS. FOR. REAL. This, of course, is the big one. It is getting harder and harder to come up with any explanation for the success of the Cowboys besides them being a very good football team. They now have arguably the best offensive line in the league, the best running back, a quarterback who is statistically one of the best as well as being simply superb as a leader on the field, and a defense that is surprisingly among the top ten in points allowed. That is a pretty awesome combination, no matter who you face. And there are very few teams in the league that look to be superior. The Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots still have to be considered the teams to beat so far in each conference, but outside them, is there anyone out there that really looks like Dallas cannot go up against and win if they play well? The remaining schedule for the Cowboys does not look nearly as formidable as it did a few weeks ago. The rest of the divisional games are always a concern, of course, but Dallas has to be the favorite in the NFC East right now. Double digit wins certainly seems attainable, with a trip to the playoffs.
And this team is still without Bryant, Romo, and Scandrick. They are all expected back, with only Romo likely needing another week after the bye. There just aren’t any teams left on the schedule that should really scare Dallas. But several of them should be really concerned about facing the Star.
It is not a place any of us expected to be. Yet here we are. 2016 is already a much different season than the Great Debacle of 2015. The Cowboys have already exceeded their win total, and look to be adding a bunch more.
This is fun.