Even after a few days to try and digest things, it still feels a bit hard to wrap your head around just how impressive this start has been for the Dallas Cowboys. We are seeing some incredible performances from a team that most predicted would be in a real dogfight just to repeat as the NFC East champs. Yes, there is still most of the season to get through, and the opponents should get harder to handle at some point. It still is a bit mind-boggling.
Here are some thoughts about just what we have seen, and where it might lead.
Jason Garrett is not getting enough credit
Everywhere you look, rookie offensive coordinator Kellen Moore is being showered with well-deserved praise for how he has transformed the once-moribund Dallas offense into a touchdown generating machine. Little is being said about head coach Jason Garrett.
Let’s correct that.
All Garrett has done is spend years helping to build this roster, nurture Dak Prescott, put together the coaching staff (which finally looks like what he wants and not what he is told to have), have this team prepared to come out of the gate at full speed while many teams are still figuring out how to get on the same page, and then, perhaps the biggest thing of all, give Moore the freedom to run the offense his way. Don’t forget, this is a contract year for Garrett. It takes more than a little bit of courage to put so much in the hands of such an inexperienced offensive coordinator.
But that also fits into what Garrett does best, which is build culture and put people in the best position to succeed. He is an organizer. Once, he was a very successful offensive coordinator himself. What he did with that experience was to identify someone who showed the intelligence and background to best utilize his players and support him for the job. There is probably quite a bit of mentoring going on as well. If Moore continues on this trajectory and validates the view of him as one of the rising new offensive minds, Garrett deserves praise for his role in making it happen.
Yet many still think he is somehow not the man to continue as the head coach, no matter how much success his team has.
Don’t expect me to be a part of that. I freely admit that I have been a big fan and supporter of Garrett through thick and thin, although I have also had my doubts in the down years. But he always bounces back, and that is important in itself.
If this team does make a deep run in January and maybe, just maybe, into the last game of the postseason, then the only rational thing is to give Garrett a new, lucrative deal and see if he can duplicate things. If Garrett were to be let go, he would find a job immediately. And likely come back to haunt us.
That should not be allowed to happen.
Dak may be better than we ever imagined
His numbers are eye-popping and record-setting. His accuracy has been phenomenal. Perhaps most impressive is the way he is speed-reading the defenses and making great decisions. Moore is structuring the game plan to utilize that newly displayed confidence and vision, and it is paying huge dividends.
Statistically, Prescott is the top quarterback in the league after week 2. That is going to be hard to maintain, with Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson also tearing up things, but he has kicked down the door to force himself into the discussion about who is in the elite tier of quarterbacks.
Given how he came into the league, that is something that didn’t seem likely before now. He always was thought of as a second-tier QB at best, one who was good enough to take the team a long way with the talent-laden roster they have. Now, he is not just getting the job done, he is elevating the team. One thing that really sticks out is his current streak of eighteen consecutive completed passes. He has the opportunity to extend it against a woeful Miami Dolphins tank job. And he started the streak against a pretty good Washington defense.
There is also the lack of sacks. He has only gone down once so far. While that testifies to the renewed performance of his offensive line, it also is affected by the way he is getting the ball out faster. Those rapid decisions he makes in the pocket also play a role, as well as also being a part of him only throwing one interception so far this season.
It is far too early to anoint Prescott as one of the best in the NFL, but, like with the new offense, the evidence is currently just growing.
Zeke is about to assert himself
Here’s some food for thought:
Ezekiel Elliott rushing yards through a season's first two games in each of his four seasons:— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) September 17, 2019
Elliott led the NFL in rushing in both 2016 and 2018.
That’s right. The man who already has two rushing crowns, and had the most yards per game in the season of his suspension, is off to his best start ever.
While the hot start has come primarily because of the effectiveness of the passing game, there are still times when a dominant runner pays off. Like goal-to-go situations, where Ezekiel Elliott has already scored twice. He only had six touchdowns all last season. Now, he is on a pace to exceed his season high, set as a rookie with 15. Again, that may be hard to maintain. but Moore is already showing he can maximize the contributions of the running game. Spreading the defense out with formation and confusing them with motion works just as well there as when throwing the ball. Feed Zeke. Just do it smartly.
The defense is off to a slower start, but don’t color me worried
The sacks and turnovers still haven’t materialized, but a couple of players are probably going to join the game-day roster. Robert Quinn and Donovan Wilson could give both those a real shot in the arm.
Both are coming back from injury (and Quinn just finished serving his two-game suspension), but if they are ready to go, things could change in a hurry. Quinn’s presence opposite DeMarcus Lawrence should open things up for both of them on passing downs. And all Wilson did in preseason was intercept passes. Potential has to be fulfilled in games that count. In this case, I think it will happen.
There are also some positive signs that the defense is already carrying their part of the load. A big one is the efficiency they have shown in getting off the field. Yes, they weren’t facing top-flight quarterbacks in the just-benched Eli Manning and Case Keenum. Still, when you are only allowing an overall third-down conversion rate of 20%, you are doing something right. They have also held opposing teams to a respectable 99 yards per game rushing, which includes the breakdown against Saquon Barkely early in the Giants game. They kept Washington to just over half the yards that the Cowboys offense put up. Even the scoring allowed is a bit deceptive, as both the Giants and Washington scored late and meaningless touchdowns when Dallas had four and three score leads, respectively.
Expect them to come around. The game against the Dolphins is an excellent opportunity to start putting up some juicy stats.
We can’t throw caution to the wind
Not to end on a downer, but there is still a lot of football left to play, and survive. Injuries are already taking a huge toll on teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New Orleans Saints, and there is no way to anticipate or prevent those. There is always a bit of luck involved. We can only hope the Cowboys have more good than bad.
However, facing the Dolphins and a Saints team without Drew Brees in the next two games gives Dallas a chance to acquire the best insurance of all: Wins. They have more than just a shot at starting the season 4-0, then they would face the Green Bay Packers in week 5. The Packers are also 2-0, and like Dallas, have gotten their wins against a couple of struggling division rivals. Aaron Rodgers, the old Cowboys nemesis, is starting to get in tune with his new offensive coordinator. That game will help elucidate just what this edition of the Cowboys is capable of doing.
First, though, they have to take care of business for a couple of weeks. Don’t count those chickens just yet. But hope for the best.
This is still the best start the Cowboys have gotten off to in a long time. As these five thoughts show, there is much more to inspire optimism than pessimism.