For the Dallas Cowboys, the first two weeks of the season couldn’t have gone much better. They have cruised to easy wins. Both were in their division. Most satisfying of all, they saw the Philadelphia Eagles drop one in a sloppy effort against the Atlanta Falcons, which leaves the Cowboys in sole possession of first place in the NFC East.
Now they can get to 3-0 with a victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. Given that the Dolphins seem to be in the middle of a tear-down and have been thoroughly trounced in their first two games, that doesn’t seem too daunting a task. But will just any old win do? Our Michael Strawn and Tom Ryle have things to say about that.
Tom: There are a lot of things I really want to see in this game. But first off, I want a dominant win. Even more so than the first two games. The Cowboys are now a huge favorite, with the point spreads ranging from 21 to 23 points in Vegas. Given that the Cowboys have been underrated so far, at least in my view, they need to cover. If they put a 25 or 30 point beating on Miami, then I can really start to believe that this team is becoming the powerhouse they are flirting with being.
Michael: I generally am not too concerned with style points but yeah, if the Cowboys kinda find themselves in a dogfight late in the third quarter that’s going to be a concern. If this is a top-5 team with legitimate Super Bowl hopes this game should be comfortable by halftime and effectively over by the third quarter.
Honestly, the schedule could not have been more beneficial to the Cowboys. Lots of fans and media now recognize that teams simply aren’t in NFL shape to start the season because regulars simply don’t practice much or play in preseason games. Which means those week 1-2-3 games are effectively preseason games... but they count! Which in turn means results are very important while performance shouldn’t be judged too harshly.
Well, what better than having three cupcakes to start the season to allow your regulars to be in tip top shape when the heavyweights show up on the schedule?
Tom: I agree, the way things fell out, especially with Drew Brees out the following week when they visit the Saints, could not have gone better. That is very important for Kellen Moore, who has been able to come in and make the evident changes and improvements to the offense, and not have any stumbles at all. I liked what Bob Sturm said in his most recent piece at The Athletic:
Bob, as good as its been, do you believe Moore has held back some wrinkles for future opponents? – Vance
100%, Vance. There is no chance that we have done too much to scratch the surface of the robust playbook that Kellen has been putting together his whole life. Trust me, there is no possibility that you to get to more than 25% or so in the season’s first few weeks. Just as you saw plenty of differences between Week 1 and Week 2 — which we absolutely did — we can believe that there are many future layers of the onion to be uncovered.
While I don’t know what exactly those new wrinkles entail, I am waiting to see the running game uncorked. I really suspect they have had a governor on Elliott to let him get back in shape and rhythm. Those are not things you can just pick up uninterrupted after a holdout, especially when you missed the training camp installation of Moore’s modifications.
I really need to see Zeke go over about 125 on the ground, without the benefit of a garbage time chunk play, and add 25 to 50 as a receiver. Then I will think this machine is really reaching full revs.
Michael:I think Zeke will get there but not this week. Just because if the Cowboys are comfortably ahead - as we should expect - I think they’ll rest Zeke and let Pollard have a chance. In fact, I’m more anxious to see Pollard make some plays. He was so impressive in preseason but we haven’t seen it in either of the first two games. That’s not a shot against Pollard, he hasn’t had a ton of chances. But I hope we see 2-3 big plays from him.
Regarding Moore, it’s just so refreshing to see all the analytical guys praising the Cowboys as opposed to wondering what the team is doing. I mean, pick plays aren’t anything new but when executed in Cowboys uniforms it looks like a revolutionary invention. I think Sturm is dead right that we haven’t seen everything, but also that defensive coordinators haven’t had time to develop a book on him.
They will eventually and that’s when we’ll really see what Moore brings to the table.
Tom: It’s funny, in a totally good way, that the only thing we really want to see in the passing game is continuity. That’s how well it has gone.
There are some other things I would like, though. First, I want to see if Devin Street can jump in and be a WR2 when the team needs him to. (Randall Cobb is the WR3, although in Moore’s offense, those designations are beneficially fluid.) This is another case where the Dolphins are hitting at a great time.
Much more importantly, CAN WE SEE AN INTERCEPTION??? The defensive backs are getting in great position, and just not closing the deal. If they can fix that issue, the defense could be poised to take off.
I also need to see how the team handles Tyrone Crawford being out, and Antwaun Woods likely to join him. We have heard for months about the depth of this unit, and now they need to come through. The team has also been woefully short on sacks, so factor that need in. This is also Robert Quinn’s first time to play, against his old team, to boot. Facing one of the worst offensive lines in the league, they really need to show some domination.
Michael: I’m rather distressed at the continued inability of the defense to generate sacks and turnovers. They’ve invested tons of draft capital and other resources into the defensive line and yet this group is never better than average. I expected to see improvement this year but it simply hasn’t been there. Same with the ability to simply recover fumbles and catch interceptions. Xavier Woods, the least likely guy to drop a potential interception, flat out dropped what should have been a game-ending, touchdown-scoring interception.
So I’m completely with you, I want to see improvement in both of those areas.
Tom: One final thing: Jaylon Smith has been a bit quiet on the field. I am not worried yet, but it would still be encouraging to see him make a big play or two - like a blitz to drop the QB.
The good news is, this is all about “Show us more of the same” or “just close the deal” rather than asking whether the team is even capable of doing what we want. It should be a fairly easy win, as long as the Cowboys don’t fall into a trap. I have a lot of faith in Jason Garrett making sure that doesn’t happen.