48 “stars” graced AT&T Stadium for the Dallas Cowboys’ initial Monday night offering against the Arizona Cardinals. Or, make that 96 stars (if we’re counting the literal star that dons each side of the Cowboy football helmet).
And the names that ESPN’s Monday Night Football crew fed its hype-machine as part of their superfluous advertising package to ramp up viewership were star-studded in their own right.
Elliott. Cooper. Lamb. Everything about that night pointed to a dazzling ensemble of heroics.
But then the game kicked off.
And with it, so did the fleeting hopes and joy of every Cowboys fan worldwide, kicked right off of a steep cliffside, straight into the pitiful depths of infamy and pain.
Combing through Dallas’ graveyard of broken spirits, crackled bones and gnawed flesh to find some sort of positive from Monday was nearly impossible. The team was that bad.
But they’ll get enough flak for their porous performance. It’s deserved. This piece, though, is about the good things that occurred, although “good” was an extreme rarity through the 60 minutes of hellfire.
Somehow, some way, through tons of film footage and even more grizzled “ughs” of pure disgust, I’ve managed to find some lights in the darkness. Here are your three stars from Monday.
3. Tony Pollard
Dallas’ mood all night was sulky. A quick purview of the home team’s sideline eked of a young child’s emotions after being refused the last slice of cake: temper, and tantrum.
They were pouty, they were downtrodden, they were completely dismembered.
And it all started after the man who requests to constantly be fed coughed up one of his first touches - a trend that’s befallen upon Ezekiel Elliott quite often this season. Then he did it again - on the very next possession.
Elliott rightfully apportioned blame to himself for the ballooning of momentum that followed his double-hiccup, and was subsequently benched due to his lack of ball security.
Enter Tony Pollard, who's turned in a few worthy audition tapes for Sports Center’s “Not Top-10” list himself this season.
Tony Pollard has only fumbled once (Week 11, 2019) dating back to 2016 when he was at Memphis. pic.twitter.com/Z4j2VpTUCz— PFF (@PFF) October 20, 2020
Elliott’s own errors left little wiggle room for a Pollard blunder, and with coach McCarthy showing he was more than willing to brandish a hook for underperforming players, Pollard’s success (or lack thereof) would be microscopically critical.
He didn’t disappoint.
While his stat-line wasn’t indicative of a gaudy haul, Pollard provided energy to a troupe that looked completely deprived of it. His first run was doozy: a 12-yard, tackle-shedding scamper longer than any Zeke was able to muster up on the night.
Tony Pollard EATING @dallascowboys @Tp__5— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) October 20, 2020
#ARIvsDAL on ESPN pic.twitter.com/SqmHi0A58G
He would receive nine more carries to round out his foray, posting a 31-yard total.
It wasn't marvelous by any means, but Pollard’s push reignited the blaze from a torch that was nearly extinct. He was solid, and solid was hard to come by Monday. Oh, and he didn’t fumble. A plus performance from a stout actor.
2. Amari Cooper
We've got an Amari Cooper sighting ladies and gentlemen. After a Giants slobber-knocker in which he was practically invisible on the pitch (he had just two receptions for 23 yards), Cooper looked to be back in peak form against Arizona.
Granted, a change in pass-thrower requisites a change in receiving prowess, but the drop-off from Dak to Dalton didn't pose a drastically stark difference in #19’s production.
He remained the favorite receiving threat - a consummate picture of positional excellence at the NFL level.
Cooper vacuumed in seven catches for 79 big ones, averaging 11.29 yards per reception. He found real estate in the end zone for the first time in four games, and what was once a constant welcoming home for the Cowboys star playmaker has been abandoned and stamped with a “for rent” sign as of late.
Amari Cooper does such a good job of selling the slant first on the double move pic.twitter.com/BEz9nUgViM— Receiver School (@ReceiverSchool) October 20, 2020
Cooper is another addition to the myriad of questionable monetary decisions made by Jones & Co. in the last few years, but here’s hoping that his recent good fortunes are a telltale sign of stellar production to come.
He’s going to need it.
1. Trevon Diggs
Stefon’s younger brother’s tale has been one of two entirely different cities.
At times, his side of the field has been a total power outage: with no electric currents flowing from quarterback to incumbent receiver when trying to maneuver through his blockage.
And at others, the trend has mirrored the exact opposite: it’s been complete generator of a city, a fully-flowing wattage-site - with Diggs serving a moot role in stopping it.
Diggs’ island has been nothing short of bipolar up to this point in Dallas’ 2020 campaign - oscillating from blue tides and sunny skies, to a raging whirlwind of complete disaster (see DK Metcalf running roughshod on him for 100+ yards on just four catches).
The forecast mirrored the former vs. Arizona. Diggs was stellar in coverage on Kyler Murray’s favorite wingman DeAndre Hopkins, limiting him to just two catches on eight targets.
Granted, the two netted him 73 yards (one was a complete debacle of blown pursuit and tackling), but Diggs looked every bit like the shutdown cover stalwart McCarthy and Nolan have been hyping him up to be since the season’s inception.
Passing deficiencies are still a major Achilles for a defensive brigade that looks completely gassed up to this point, but Diggs’ showing was something of a change in the right direction for the backline.
And something, heck, anything right now is worthy of recognition for a team that’s been depleted of positivity for what’s seemingly been ages.