There are now two games in the books for the Dallas Cowboys. That means that the season is now one-eighth gone, which is just a reminder of how fast football flies by. But we are beginning to get a better idea of just what this team is. Here are some things we learned in the Washington game.
The defense has some real problems, but also some real fight. It has to be admitted: If Kirk Cousins had been on target with a handful of deep passes, it is likely that the Cowboys would have lost, and lost badly. Fortunately, he was not consistent enough to properly utilize his receiving weapons. He did not get pressured nearly enough. The Cowboys need to come up with more answers there, and fast. Randy Gregory is now out of the picture for at least 14 weeks, which means he is effectively going to miss the season. DeMarcus Lawrence is still coming back in three more weeks, but will probably need a couple of weeks to get up to full speed, at least. In the meantime, the team has to look to Ryan Davis to come in and help, hopefully this week, and Charles Tapper needs to get healthy and make his own contributions. But there are some positive notes, particularly in the secondary, where Morris Claiborne and Byron Jones are both playing very well. And the most significant thing is that in this game, the defense stepped up late, with the Barry Church interception and a key pass defended by Justin Durant. This group is still looking for more talent, but it clearly has some heart and grit. After surrendering so many late leads last year, it was very encouraging to see them finally close out a win for the team.
We don’t need to worry about Dez. He came back with a vengeance, getting seven catches for 102 yards, including three that kept drives alive. Dez Bryant still has not gotten into the end zone, but that will come. With him reestablished as the main threat, other receivers are going to get theirs, and Cole Beasley is already cashing in on that, on a pace to have by far the best year of his career.
The running game is coming along - but still has a way to go. The ground game started slowly, but was beginning to establish itself late in the second half. Unfortunately, just as Ezekiel Elliott was starting to get on track, he had two fumbles and was pulled in favor of Alfred Morris, who did not do much outside of his touchdown run. But Elliott is on a pace to break 1,000 yards and has a touchdown in each of his first two games, so there is still reason to hope the investment in him will pay off.
Dak is the real deal. We have to add the caveat “so far”, but that is starting to be less and less relevant about Dak Prescott. He has set the all-time record for most passes thrown as a rookie without an interception. Everyone keeps observing, with a certain amount of awe, that he simply does not look like a rookie, but an established and very-talented veteran NFL quarterback. It is almost impossible to read anything about him without finding the word “poise”. His biggest strength, however, seems to be his football intelligence. He does not just bring mobility and athleticism to the table, he knows how and when to use all his tools. The coaching staff is bringing him along with some deliberation, but at a good clip. He has yet to throw a touchdown, but has run one in. And the points through the air are going to come.
It is becoming realistic to talk about him growing into the heir to Tony Romo. He still has a lot of that growing to do, but so far, he has demonstrated that he is more than capable. And if that all bears out, he is going to be one of the greatest draft finds ever. What is more remarkable is that a healthy Romo returning will give the Cowboys arguably the best QB1/QB2 combination in the NFL. Given that the lack of a decent backup doomed the 2015 season, and that the plan for this year was to go with Kellen Moore as the backup as Prescott sat and learned, it is an incredible turnaround. And all because the staff pulled the trigger on Prescott - after missing on Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook earlier in the draft. Those may the most fortunate draft misses in the history of the franchise.
The Cowboys can win without Romo. This is the big one. The thing they could not do last year. It was a close-fought game that could have gone either way, and Dallas rose to the occasion. It was a team victory, although Prescott gets a huge share of the credit. But now, with a very beatable Chicago Bears team coming to AT&T Stadium for the Sunday night game this week, the Cowboys have a chance to get their first back-to-back wins in a year. The possibility of Romo returning with no worse than a .500 record to work with is looking very good, and there is a realistic chance he could have a winning record to build on. If he is back to form, this could become a very dangerous team that could be in the thick of the playoff race. And now there is a marvelous insurance policy in case the worst happens.
There will be much more to garner as the season progresses. All is not perfect, but the good certainly outweighed the bad last Sunday, especially since the team came out of the game with no new injuries of any note. If things continue to improve, which is not too far-fetched a thing to hope for, this could be a very enjoyable season.