Bob Sturm in his morning after post really liked how the team played without so many of its front-line players, largely because Dak and Zeke wouldn't have it any other way. But he also loved the contributions from many others, including Maliek Collins, Anthony Brown, and Brice Butler.
Prescott and Elliott are both ready for whatever you want to ask of them and it is amazing to behold. Dak may not be as demonstrative with his hand gestures, but you can tell they both want to continue to be fed more.
That may not fit well into the time frames and the relationships that were built before their arrival, but pro football is not about that. Pro football is about finding capable bodies to do tough jobs and that usually falls to those who are able to answer the bell week after week.
In other words, it sure feels like we are finding ourselves on the doorstep of a new era being ushered in. These young guys look capable and ready to step in.
Did you know that there are 29 new players on this roster since the start of 2015? 29! That means that over half your squad doesn't remember being on the sideline in that playoff game in Green Bay.
Tom Ryle took Sturm's point and expanded on it in a great read. The Cowboys are a completely different team than they were last year.
The most obvious impact has come from the dynamic duo of rookies, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. There have already been literally thousands of articles and reports about Prescott’s amazing start to his NFL career, and there is little doubt that the Cowboys would be up a creek without him. Over the past two games, Elliott has begun to validate the decision to draft him fourth overall, with 278 yards rushing just in those two contests. He is now the league’s leading rusher, and like Prescott, he seems to be improving every game.
Of course, it starts with Dak and Zeke, but as Tom points out, the confidence the team is playing with does not end there. Rookies and vets alike have stepped up their games. No one is waiting around for someone to come back to go out and win games. It's been infectious.
In DeMarcus Lawrence's return Dallas can learn from Greg Hardy in 2015 - Todd Archer, ESPN
But Dallas does have players coming back to strengthen the team, and one of the most important may be DeMarcus Lawrence. Where will he play this week? And how much?
The question is at what position? He played left defensive end in 2015, but the Cowboys drafted him with the idea of playing him at right defensive end in the second round in 2014. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli mentioned right defensive end first when talking about Lawrence last week.
"See how he is, see how he feels, conditioning," Marinelli said. "He hasn’t been in pads in a month, so we’ve just got to see where he’s at, but he’s in good shape and I’m counting on him coming in and doing good. We just can’t overdo it. You’ve got to be smart."
Lawrence isn't the only player who may be back for Cincinnati. Jerry Jones thinks that Tyron Smith and Orlando Scandrick could be back, and Dan Bailey will be okay. It's hard to know what to believe, however, regarding the front office's health predictions.
Jones attempted to downplay the back injury that has caused left tackle Tyron Smith to miss the last two games. "I don't want to minimize it," he said, "but if you took an MRI of most players in the NFL, especially at those positions, where they do leverage, where they work against other big men, most players would have some bulging disks."
When discussing Smith, kicker Dan Bailey and cornerback Orlando Scandrick, Jones said "there's a good chance" all three will play against the Bengals.
Bob Sturm's weekly Decoding Linehan post is required reading. In this version, he offers some great film study on how Travis Frederick and Zack Martin blew open holes for Ezekiel Elliott to blast through, especially after Navarro Bowman went down.
Sunday, we saw the Cowboys follow the script. Pound the rock. Pound it early and often. Not because every run is a thing of beauty, but because it puts the defense on its heels. Every carry is a body blow. And over three hours, those take a toll. It tests the durability and the conditioning level of a defense. The 49ers are no joke and they are very stout against the run. They have one of the best middle linebackers in the business, and he had eight tackles and a sack before going down with an injury. And when he left the game, the Cowboys went from good to great on the ground.
On the flip side, the success of Cole Beasley (and absence of Dez) allowed San Francisco to pay more attention to Dak's favorite outlet receiver. As a result, Witten jumped back up to the top in receptions this week.
After recording 20 catches in the first three games, and with Bryant absent because of a tibial plateau fracture, Beasley became a marked man.
"Every time I broke in, I had a guy waiting on me, a linebacker, and then they played some two-man [coverage] stuff and then I think I was going to have an out-breaking route and a corner is waiting on me. They did a good job. It was tough for me to go anywhere really."
To finish, what would the news be like without a little Romo v. Dak debate?
This post laid out Tony Romo's career stats and how he ranked during his 10 years in the NFL to get a better handle on how Romo could be expected to play when and if he returns. It generated quite the debate.
Objectively, Tony Romo has had one great year statistically - 2014. He’s had two more top-five years, 2011 and 2007. But overall, he’s not been a top-five quarterback in the NFL for the 10 years he’s been in the league. He’s been more like what his averages say he’s been, from sixth to ninth in quarterback rating depending on whether you count 2015, and ninth through eleventh in QBR, depending on the same thing.
Yet Tony Romo has clearly carried the team on his back throughout this entire period, keeping them relevant and usually in the hunt for a playoff spot in the years he’s stayed healthy. Still, the Cowboys have made the playoffs in only four of his ten seasons, advanced to a second game only twice, and never made the NFC Championship game, much less the Super Bowl, which is in stark contrast to the great 30-year run of the Dallas Cowboys. Tony Romo has the best passing stats in Cowboys history, but he doesn’t come close to the championship history forged by his Cowboys quarterback predecessors.
Tony Romo’s worst year, by far, was 2015. His best year, by far, was 2014. An objective observer would likely consider both of these outlier years based on the data above, and not expect Romo to repeat either one if and when he returns to action.
Our old colleague KD Drummond, who is a master of cap math, lays out an important aspect of the Dak v. Romo debate - relative cost.
Dallas has the NFL’s most expensive offense in 2016 and are in the bottom 12 in spending on defense. Projecting to 2017 (courtesy of OverTheCap.com) the Cowboys are set to drop to 23rd in defensive spending. The offense? That is still projected to be tops, but now over $30 million is between them and the next highest projected team. The gap between them and the next closest team is over half of what they have on the books for their defense.[...]
Romo has $19.6 million remaining of unamortized signing bonus. If he outright retires, that would accelerate onto the 2017 ledger, meaning the Cowboys would save $5.1 million of space on next year’s cap.
That would also clear up $25.2 million of 2018 space that is currently earmarked for Romo, and $23.7 million of similar 2019 space.
Financially speaking, that flexibility would be a boon for the Cowboys.