I’ve been writing about the Dallas Cowboys for over eight years now. Most of my articles try to hew closely to the facts. Many of them are about digging up stats and information to try and give us an indication of what went right and wrong, and which data points can point forward. But sometimes, like here, the topic is pretty much opinion. Oh, you will get to see why the opinions exist. Still, this is going to be more free-wheeling than normal. Here are my thoughts this week on the 3-0, NFC East leading Cowboys after another convincing win over the Miami Dolphins, and looking forward to the New Orleans Saints.
Kellen Moore has what it takes
It’s a small sample size yet, and those weren’t the creme de la creme of the NFL he was finding massive yards and plentiful points against.
Don’t care. As noted in the weekly crunching stats piece, the performances were too consistent to think Moore is suddenly going to be stymied by any defense he faces. And they were too big to be overly worried about how much drop off there will be against higher quality defenses.
As Bob Sturm put it back during Dak Prescott’s rookie season, this is sustainable. These were not flukes. One big performance can give you a very incorrect impression. We saw that last season when the Cowboys dropped 40 points on the Jacksonville Jaguars. After the early struggles of that campaign, we thought that the team had figured it out and was ready to roll. It was a sign that things were improving, but they would still struggle in several games, having to rely on a string of one-score wins to make it to the playoffs. There would be two more losses before they started the run triggered by the arrival of Amari Cooper. And the embarrassment against the Indianapolis Colts was a stark reminder that they still had a lot of work to do.
This looks and feels entirely different. We may still see them run headlong into some disappointment as the schedule gets tougher from here on, but I don’t think so. And I am hardly alone.
Back even before I began my extremely enjoyable time writing here at BTB, I began curating a group of people to pay attention to when they began talking about the X and O aspects of the game. This now includes Bob Sturm, Bryan Broaddus, John Owning, K.D Drummond, Patrik “No C” Walker, Joey Ickes, and our own DannyPhantom, just to name some. All keep coming to the same conclusion. This is not just an illusion. This is real, and sustainable. Some of those have been predicting that we would see exactly what transpired in the first three games almost from the day Moore was promoted. Others wanted to see some Moore evidence, but by now, we are all coming around.
The selection of Moore to take the offensive coordinator reins and fix the issues of the offense was the single most important development for the Cowboys this year. So far it is an absolute jackpot. We have seen a lot already, but with the level of the opposition thus far and the early stage we are in, you can be sure that Moore has a lot more in his bag of tricks. It is hugely exciting to contemplate.
The Dak attack
Prescott has shown incredible development as both a passer and a decision maker. As a result, he is at or near the top in any metric for quarterbacks, from completion percentage to depth of his throws.
Dak's current ranks in various accuracy metrics:— AdamJT13 (@AdamJT13) September 25, 2019
#1 in Completion %
#1 in Adjusted Completion % (PFF)
#1 in xComp +/- (Next Gen)
#1 in On Target % (SIS)
#1 in Catchable % (SIS)
#1 in Accuracy % (nocheckdowns .com)
#2 in Depth-Adjusted Accuracy % (nocheckdowns .com)
That is second in importance only behind Moore’s advent, and the two go hand in hand.
The great worry was that Prescott would revert to some of his old bad habits. That was what seemed to happen in the early going against Miami, as he made a horrible decision resulting in an interception and had some other less than perfect throws.
More importantly, however, was the way he bounced back in the second half. As a matter of fact, he currently has owned the third quarters this year. He has been a perfect 22 for 22 on his passes during them, and has led the team to five touchdowns. Just for comparison, consider this: In the first three games of last season, they only scored four touchdowns total.
The much improved receiving corps is a big part of this, but it doesn’t detract from the magnitude of Prescott’s improvement. He is far more decisive, and utilizes his offensive weapons at an elite level.
Budding two-headed beast
Ezekiel Elliott, who has always started slow before hitting his stride a few games into the season, has now had back-to-back 100 yard games, and already has two rushing touchdowns after only totaling six all last season. Given that he held out all of training camp, this is easily the fastest start ever for him.
And in case you didn’t hear, Tony Pollard gave the team two 100-yard rushers for the first time since 1998. That is huge for a couple of reasons. Fresh legs can be important, both in a single game and as the long grind takes its toll on the players. Against Miami, Elliott only had 19 carries and two receptions. That 21 touches is well below his average from his first three seasons. That should make him fresh in each game and keeps him from getting as worn down. Pollard now can come in rested and ready to gash the defense as they get tired while saving that wear and tear on Elliott. It also limits the total snap count, where blocking duties take an additional toll.
Just as exciting, the over 200-yard rushing games in weeks 2 and 3 are evidence that Moore has a handle on maximizing the efficiency of the ground game as well as the aerial attack. Dallas arguably now has the most balanced and effective offense in the game. Logically, that won’t hold up in every coming contest, but it should still be a significant factor in many, if not most.
The defense is not as bad as some make it out to be
The early going has raised some concerns about the lack of sacks and takeaways. To counter that, I will offer the suggestion that only one stat matters for defenses, and it is points allowed. The Cowboys have only given up an average of 14.7 per game so far, good for fourth in the league.
Another key stat that helps keep the other team off the scoreboard is third down conversions. and the Cowboys are only allowing an impressive 20%. When added to how they are leading the league in converting their own third downs, that tilts things heavily in their favor.
The defense still has a lot of room for improvement. The same argument about the level of competition enters in, also. But there is no reason for panic when they are doing some very important things so well.
Add it up, and it paints a truly optimistic picture
There are even more positives to note, such as Pro Football Focus grading the Cowboys’ offensive line as the best of week 3. Even more, La’el Collins was the highest graded OL in the entire NFL. This is a team that bases its offense on dominant line play, and we are starting to see just that.
This Cowboys team continues to look like the most complete, deepest roster we have seen since way back in the glory years of Jimmy Johnson and the Triplets. Add in what Moore has brought to the table, and the idea this may be the year for a Jason Garrett coached team to break through is not at all far-fetched.
They are going to have to prove me wrong. So far, they have done exactly the opposite.