The Dallas Cowboys took a significant stride toward the playoffs with their 37-18 win over the New York Giants. They now sit at 5-3, and 4-0 in their own division. It is far better than things stood at this time last season, which wound up with an NFC crown and a playoff win despite the bad start. So we should all be happy.
Except we aren’t. In the latest SBNation FanPulse survey, the voters’ confidence in the team actually dipped from the previous week. How does that happen after a 19 point victory? Our Michael Strawn and Tom Ryle are among those asking that question, and have some ideas to share.
Michael: The Cowboys went on the road against a division opponent Monday night and walked away with a 19-point victory. They scored 37 points, racking up 429 yards including 172 rushing yards. The quarterback threw for 250+ yards and three touchdowns and recorded a 102 passer rating.
The defense held the opponent to 18 points despite New York starting with short fields on several occasions. They compiled five sacks, three turnovers and even scored a defensive touchdown.
Yet if I listen to Twitter and many of the yapping heads on TV/radio, the Cowboys didn’t look very good. Some fans are also clearly feeling a bit unconvinced. Yeah, the Giants are a dumpster fire. But you know what happens when a dumpster fire plays a quality team? They get run over by double-digits.
The argument is the Cowboys haven’t beaten any good teams. Maybe; they certainly put a beat down on the Eagles. In fact, every one of their five wins have been by double-digits. The team’s average margin of victory is 20 points.
Last year the Cowboys were fortuitous, with nine of their ten wins coming by a single score. We know that’s unsustainable as a bad bounce, fluke play or head-scratching referee decision can determine the outcome. You know how to avoid having that happen? Win your games by 20 points where such things don’t matter. Quality teams share a couple characteristics:
- They win a lot of games by more than one score
- They don’t lose games by more than one score very often
- Like most teams, they split their one-score games
Meh teams, on the other hand, play a lot of one-score games. Most teams will go somewhere between 10-6 and 6-10 and those one-score outcomes determine their fate. I’m seeing a Cowboys team that’s routing over-matched opponents and frankly, I’m impressed.
Fair : Whoa. You are a bit worked up, I see.
While I will admit to being a bit puzzled by the decline in confidence this week, I also can understand what inspires it for some. If not for the multiple mistakes that Dallas made, especially early, they could have had their first 40 burger, and an even larger margin of victory. There has to be some real concern over the slow starts that have plagued them in all of their losses. It really reared its ugly head against the Giants. For the first 28 minutes of the game, you had to be sensing some MetLife deja vu all over again. If not for some really good defensive play in the red zone, the Cowboys could have been in a really big hole.
So there is certainly some reason for concern. This team has so much talent, and really good schemes on both sides of the ball. The only real problem they have is that they keep creating self-inflicted wounds. It had looked like they had gotten that under control against the Philadelphia Eagles, but now it was back in force. Heck, until things changed after the appearance of the rally cat, I was getting ready to start speculating about coaching changes and how high the Cowboys would draft, since the regular season seemed to be teetering on the brink. I can understand why some of the poll respondents feel the way they do. It was a very impressive comeback after adversity, but those are hard, especially against better teams than the Giants. A lot of the fan base being rattled should not come at all as a surprise.
Michael: Fair enough. All those things are true and not really debatable. I just see a lot more to like than dislike. Just over a year ago this team was going nowhere. They had no play-making receivers, making the offense a dull, plodding, ineffective unit. An equally dull and predictable scheme made watching them tedious. And it didn’t really matter if they were playing good or bad teams.
A year later and this is a completely different unit. Talented. Dynamic. Effective. FUN! I don’t think you can dismiss the team’s accomplishments, especially on offense. Football Outsiders ranks the offense first in DVOA (their proprietary metric for measuring NFL units). I’m enjoying the heck out of watching them routinely put up 400 yards and 30 points. You can’t just dismiss those accomplishments.
That doesn’t mean the team is perfect or without issues. The slow starts are maddening; I’ve mentioned my thoughts on the subject on my “grading” pieces after each game. But let’s acknowledge that what we’re seeing is one of the absolute best Dallas Cowboys offenses we’ve ever seen.
Tom: Well, you and I may have a similar take because we are basing our thoughts on good data and such, and there are a lot of positive numbers to point to. But I think the main source of the negative noise is the bloviating heads in the media, and many of them have a lingering lack of respect for the Cowboys. Dak Prescott, for whatever reason, just does not get the credit he should (although that is gradually changing), and Jason Garrett may get even less outside of actual coaches, staff, and players in the league, where he is apparently highly-regarded. Ezekiel Elliott is hitting his stride. Meanwhile, the defense is just now rounding into form, and the Giants game was the first appearance of Michael Bennett, who looks to be another huge addition alongside Robert Quinn. The injury to Anthony Brown opened the door for Jourdan Lewis, who is a budding ball-hawk in the secondary.
I think the barrage of negative “reporting” drives a lot of the doubt. Add in that the expectations for the Cowboys, still the glamour franchise of the NFL, are just not the same as for most teams. The only thing that will truly purge all that is a deep playoff run, and it may really take winning it all. The team has not gotten there yet, and has a lot to overcome to do so.
We may be frustrated by the frustration, so to speak. But it goes with the territory.
Michael: I try to stay away from bloviating heads. And you’re 100% correct that minus a deep playoff run my rantings here will look silly. I’ve said it before and haven’t changed my mind, I’m all in on this version of the Cowboys. I’ve been irrationally confident but I think there are a lot of rational reasons to feel good about them. Time will tell.
Tom: Well, on that we do agree. I am excited about what the rest of the season could bring. And it would be so very sweet to be able to do a lot of “I told you so” if this edition of the team can live up to its promise.
So let people have concerns. It is not as if there was no basis in what we have seen at times this year. Now, the Cowboys face another big test against a winning team in the Minnesota Vikings, on national television. If (and that’s a big one) they can pull off the win, people will start to come around.
And if not, then we really can’t criticize the doubters, now, can we?