After so much frustration about the offense of the Dallas Cowboys last season, it is almost dizzying to see what has happened so far. This offense is explosive, efficient, effective, relentless . . . the favorable adjectives just go on and on. Trying to point to the one thing that made all this happen seems impossible.
Well, it should be. It is absolutely not one thing, not even the emergence of pizza boy genius Kellen Moore at offensive coordinator. (I’m sorry, Kellen. You don’t deserve the lame jokes about your youthful appearance. I just have an addiction to the cheap laughs.) No, this is truly a case where all the parts contribute to the whole. And right now, the Cowboys have quality parts at every position.
Let’s start with the foundation of it all, the offensive line. After struggling with injury and illness previously, this is looking a lot more like the overpowering unit from 2016. That is of some significance, since the foundation back then is the same as it is now: Three All Pros in Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Travis Frederick. Now all three are back and looking like their old selves. It really couldn’t get any better.
It just got better. The only weak link is Connor Williams, and he would have no problem winning a starting job on some other teams. Offensive line talent is hard to come by, and Dallas runs the risk of being deemed hoarders.
The only thing that can really cause problems here is injury. That reared its ugly head this week as Martin sat out practice on Thursday due to some back issues. It is being reported as more precautionary than anything, and we hope that is right.
We should take a moment just to marvel how these huge men can go out, spend nearly half of a football game undergoing repeated collisions that would put us mere mortals in the hospital, and then go out a week (or less) later and do it all again.
OK, enough marveling. Here’s the bottom line on the line. Dallas has made the offensive line the real starting point for its offensive roster since Jason Garrett became head coach and immediately got Smith drafted. This is conceivably a better unit now than that 2016 unit that got 13 regular season wins with a couple of rookies at quarterback and running back.
And now, those aren’t rookies any more.
Somewhat to the dismay of many, the Cowboys still insist the offense is built around running the ball. There was a flare of hope that this was just lip-service as the team put up over 400 yards through the air in week 1. However, that turned out to be more a case of doing what they had to while Ezekiel Elliott got his game legs back. Now they have exceeded 200 yards rushing twice in a row, and are fourth in the league in yards per game on the ground. It looks like that ranking should just improve, especially with the emergence of Tony Pollard as a highly effective runner in his own right.
And while we may wish that Moore would lean more to throwing the ball for analytics reasons, the team has still been incredibly effective while running the ball more. Last week, they got more first downs on the ground than through the air, 15 to 12. The week before, it was an almost even split, 11 to 12.
That is remarkably efficient. Dallas ranks third in rushing first downs at the moment - and that is after having only four in week 1. It looks like they have achieved a workable kind of balance in the game. Oh, and after that low production against the New York Giants, they now rank fourth in the league in rushing yards.
And it is fueled by having two really good backs to take advantage of the blocking up front.
Of course, it is good to know you can also win by pretty much going to the air all the time. Dak Prescott took exactly one game this year to establish his credentials in that department. While he has not been as wildly prolific since, his passing is still is just as effective as the running game. His arm is still the primary scoring threat, with the Cowboys having nine touchdowns passing to four running. Oh, and he covers both bases there, with one of those rushing scores belonging to him.
The big story about Prescott is not so much how well he is playing this year. It is about how much better he is than before. We all heard about the improved accuracy and crispness in camp. For once, the preseason hype has been proven completely accurate, as Prescott is currently at or near the top of, well, every statistical category.
He is aided by the vastly improved wide receiving corps. Amari Cooper is the headliner, but he was being challenged by Michael Gallup before the latter was injured and had to miss time. But the team overcame his absence quite well with Randall Cobb showing how versatile he is (and getting robbed by a penalty - again), and Devin Smith pitched in while quietly having an impressive comeback campaign.
Meanwhile, Jason Witten is doing prime Jason Witten things at tight end, and it is glorious.
Now take all those good to outstanding pieces and give them to Moore. You could make the tired argument that anyone could coach a team that loaded to success. But the stark contrast between how this year’s offense has performed and what it looked like the previous two seasons lays that lie bare to see. Moore is innovative, creative, unpredictable and confident. Just as importantly, he just seems to have a knack for putting his players in the best place to succeed.
You see how it all circles around like Ouroboros. One thing leads to another, which comes right back to where it started to help that be better. Honestly, that may be why the success of the Cowboys seems so surprising. This is not a simple case of adding this and then we get that result. It is about synergy and interplay of the parts of the offense.
What does make things easier to understand is when you realize just how good all the separate components are. It is a lot easier to build a Ferrari with genuine Ferrari parts.
This is great, but it is also temporary. It is hard to have so many pieces of the whole peaking at the same time. I mean, even Witten is playing like he’s ten years younger. You just don’t get this convergence often, and it is only going to last two or three years, at most, before age, injury, and free agency start to erode it.
But that is something to worry about another day, because the focus is on winning games now.
The only unanswered question about this offense, and the team as a whole, is just how much the rather weak level of competition they have faced played into the 3-0 start. That debate may not be over for a bit yet, because the New Orleans Saints have fallen prey to the injury bug and will start Teddy Bridgewater in place of Drew Brees.
But that does not change the fact that no part of this offense has been dragging anything else down. Just the opposite, in fact.
It’s all good.