Going into the Monday night game, we all had so many concerns about the Dallas Cowboys. In the Arizona Cardinals, they faced another team with a strong defense. It was expected that the Cardinals would try to stop Dallas the same way the Denver Broncos did the prior game. And they have a quarterback in Carson Palmer who can beat defenses down the field. With a banged up secondary that has to rely on some very inexperienced players, Dallas had a lot of challenges.
It took a while, but the Cowboys rose to meet those challenges and come home with a hard-earned 28-17 win. Along the way, we learned a few things.
There was no quit in this team.
The Cowboys fell behind on the first Arizona drive of the game. The offense had a very hard time getting on track. But the defense righted things first, and the offense found its footing.
Most importantly, Ezekiel Elliott did not quit at all, breaking off a few key runs despite being stopped for a loss or minimal gain several other times. The offensive line had some bad moments, but by the end of the game was starting to assert itself again. They also only allowed one sack of Dak Prescott, aided by his own ability to evade pressure. The plus five sack differential, along with several tackles for a loss and constant pressure on Palmer, was the big difference in the game. Speaking of which . . .
DLaw is for real.
Forget the talk about facing bad offensive lines. After all, there are more bad O lines in the NFL today than good ones. With his third multi-sack game, and his best overall performance of the season to date, Demarcus Lawrence served notice that he is a force to be reckoned with, as well as one of the premier pass rushers in the league. He now is the top sack artist in the NFL for 2017. A lot is being made of him being in a contract year, but the real story is that he faced no suspension this season and is finally healthy. We are finally seeing the player that the Cowboys drafted him to be. And so far, it is nothing short of glorious.
Quality is more important than quantity.
In almost every statistical category, the Cardinals outplayed the Cowboys. Total yards, time of possession, first downs, third down conversions, and more clearly favored Arizona. But the Cowboys dominated in sacking the quarterback, and in one other, even more important stat: Red zone possessions. Arizona could only get a score of any kind on one of their four times in the RZ, while Dallas was a perfect three for three, scoring touchdowns on each one. It was a major turnaround for the Cowboys, and if they can continue to do well in this aspect, they should win plenty of games the rest of the season.
Another key quality stat: Prescott’s line. He was 13 of 18 passing and no interceptions, for 183 yards with two passing and one rushing touchdown. That gave him a passer rating of 141.7 and a quarterback rating of 85.7. Very low in yardage, but simply excellent in all other regards.
Special teams were special again.
Bill Parcells called it “hidden yardage”: Getting better field position to start your drives than you allow your opponents. Chris Jones again dropped multiple punts inside the 20 while the coverage allowed no significant returns. Meanwhile, Ryan Switzer showed why he is now the return specialist for Dallas, getting 43 yards returning punts while the Cardinals only had a measly four. The Cowboys started three drives at or inside the 50-yard line - and all of them resulted in touchdowns. The Cardinals had no drives begin in Dallas’ end of the field. Rich Bisaccia is doing another excellent job.
Those were four things we saw that we learned something from. There were certainly others, so add your takeaways in the comments. For now, things are looking up after a disastrous game in week 2, which is exactly what the Cowboys needed.