A few years ago, I was the scorekeeper for my son’s AAA Little League team. After each game, the manager allowed me to talk to the kids about some of the things I noticed while I was scoring the game. The team was good, but not perfect. Kind of like life is. Well, half way through the season, I had an inspiration. I decided after each game that I was only going to say positive things, and made it a point to say something positive about each player on the team. Well, guess what? From that point on, the team was undefeated! They came from behind to win each playoff game, avenging two previous losses to the regular season winner in the final playoff game. It was a fantastic team, and the lesson about being positive still inspires me. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the 2016 Dallas Cowboys at the bye!
- They are 5-1, tops in the NFC East, and will be after this weekend’s games, regardless of what happens.
- They are tied for second-best record in the NFL with New England, behind undefeated Minnesota. The Seahawks are the only other team with less than two losses.
- The offense is #1 in the Aikman Efficiency ratings, and the team is #2 overall.
The Players - Offense
What more can you say about Dak Prescott, except that he’s been a revelation!
Zeke is killing it, with four games in a row rushing for more than 130 yards. He has the most 20+ yard runs in the NFL. He’s rushed for five touchdowns. He’s leading the NFL in rushing. He’s inspiring his team. And he can do this.
Inside the NFL’s highlights from the Green Bay game showed Tony on the sideline talking with Dak and sharing his knowledge. Tony might not be playing, but he’s doing everything he can to help the Cowboys win.
Leary was replaced last year after he suffered a groin injury, and he wasn’t happy about it. But he kept himself ready, and moved into the starting lineup this season after La’el Collins got hurt and has played like it’s 2014 all over again. Bravo!
The Offensive Line
As a unit, this group is playing up to its top billing. The Cowboys are second in the NFL in rushing yards per game, and tied for third in fewest sacks allowed per game. As Mike Golic says, the success of Dak and Zeke all starts up front. If you missed OCC’s post on this subject, it’s required reading!
Tyron Smith and Chaz Green
Who knows how bad Smith’s back issues are? The fact he’s had to sit out two games suggest their must be a problem. But he’s still been his awesome self when he’s been able to play. The fact that Chaz Green stepped into Smith’s shoes for two games and kept the Cowboys humming along has also been huge.
Among the very best offensive linemen in the game. Aside from the Dak pick, taking Martin over Johnny Manziel was one of the Cowboys’ best ever decisions.
As the news links noted this week, Beasley’s efficiency has him leading the NFL in Football Outsider’s DYAR stats. He has that Romo-Witten like link with Dak Prescott, which has him tied for the lead in third down conversions. And he can fake the shorts out of cornerbacks.
Last season, the story was that Williams disappeared when Dez went down. This year, Williams has stepped up with solid games in the games Dez has been out.
He just keeps rolling along, reaching true Ironman status. One of my favorite all-time plays of his is from this season.
From an obscure rookie with 24 snaps last season, he’s done quite well this year after having to take on the #2 tight end role after James Hanna was hurt. He’s leading the team in yards per catch average, with three catches for 50 yards.
Here’s another player who hasn’t been given a lot of opportunities, but when he has, he’s made the most of them. Bob Sturm went so far as to dub the victory over Green Bay “the Lucky Whitehead game.”
He hasn’t had a lot of snaps or carries yet, but he’s filled in solidly and given the Cowboys confidence that they have depth at running back. And when Zeke fumbled twice in the Washington game, he stepped right up with a key late touchdown.
The Players - Defense
Lee has played every down this season, and been a true leader of the team. He’s tops in tackles and assists.
In only 19 snaps against Green Bay, Irving won Defensive Player of the Week, with three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, a pass defensed, and the Cowboys only sack. Pretty amazing. Stay healthy David.
Mo Claiborne and Brandon Carr
Switching sides for these guys has worked out pretty well, hasn’t it? Mo Claiborne looks like the best secondary player the Cowboys have. And Brandon Carr has looked much better on the right side. Both have interceptions this year after coming up empty in 2015.
With Orlando Scandrick out the last four games, this rookie sixth-round pick has been balling! Rod Marinelli compared him to Ronde Barber. He’s a big part of a secondary that is playing very well.
Maliek Collins and Tyrone Crawford
Collins, the rookie defensive tackle, missed most of training camp and preseason with a foot injury. But he has jumped right in to the interior of the line and held his own, allowing Dallas to move Tyrone Crawford back to defensive end, where he started his Dallas career. Collins has had weeks with more snaps than any other defensive lineman. Meanwhile, Crawford has said being on the end saves wear and tear on his body, and he made the key sack that helped turn the San Francisco game around.
Finally healthy (knock wood), McClain has been going back and forth with Sean Lee and Mo Claiborne for best Cowboy defenseman this season. His play is another reason why Dallas could afford to move Crawford back outside.
The most maligned player in the secondary has come up big a number of times this season. He came up to make a key late-game tackle in the opener against the Giants that gave Dallas one last chance to come back to win the game. Even if that didn’t end up working, the play was solid. He’s also defensed passes and made other great hits. And he’s still a beast on special teams.
Anthony Hitchens and Justin Durant
This pair has split the middle linebacking duties. Neither are perfectly suited for this role, but both have gamely fought inside and been part of overall excellent defensive efforts.
The Defense as a Whole
The Cowboys have given up fewer than 20 points to each of their last four opponents, including the Cincinnati Bengals at home and Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. They tackle well, and give maximum effort. Turnovers have returned. No one has exposed them. Along with Minnesota, they are the only defense that has not allowed a 100-yard receiver or rusher this season. Impressive.
The Coaching Staff
I won’t spend much time here, because Bob Sturm lays out the case so well in this article.
That is the story here in the bye week.
Not that this team has a QB controversy or a surprising start, but that this team is consistently outcoaching its opponent. With the same staff that was looking pretty feeble last fall.
Chances are they are the same coaches as they ever were. But, now, things have finally come together to let them prove it here.
Patience appears to be paying off for the Cowboys.
The Front Office and Talent Scouts
Look at these studs the Cowboys drafted:
- Ezekiel Elliott in the first round
- Maliek Collins in the third round
- Dak Prescott in the fourth round
- Anthony Brown in the sixth round
Then add in the future potential from Jaylon Smith, Charles Tapper, Kavon Frazier, Darius Jackson, and even Rico Gathers. That’s one heck of a draft. Certainly there was some real luck involved, but it’s working out nonetheless. And that’s just 2016. The Cowboys have been hitting on their first rounders for years.
With so many young players in key positions, not only is the present bright, but it is possible for the first time in a long while to envision the Dallas Cowboys as Championship contenders, not just now but into the future.
Give yourselves a week to savor that.
Please add any positive shoutouts to anyone I may have missed in the comments.