People around the National Football League world are starting to realize that the Dallas Cowboys (and their 4-1 record) may just be for real this season. It is definitely still way too early to hand this team any kind of trophy, but we are deep enough that we can draw legitimate conclusions and establish baselines for a number of different things. We can also admit a few things at this point in time.
Admissions generally have to do with things that we were wrong about which was the subject of this week’s episode of The 75O on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Tony Casillas (who you can hear every week on our network) and I discussed things that we were incorrect about regarding the Dallas Cowboys this season. You can listen to the episode right above here, but make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our other shows. Apple devices can subscribe right here and Spotify users can subscribe right here.
Here are five of those things.
Terence Steele looks incredible
When news of La’el Collins’ suspension became public the day after the season opener, there were many Cowboys fans who were dreading how the team was going to handle his absence for five games. Just about all of those people were heavily disappointed when it was announced that the team was going to move forward with Terence Steele at right tackle.
Steele has more than held up over the last four games (all Cowboys wins by the way). When you consider what he has done relative to the extremely low expectations, he has been a revelation.
Zeke's rushing yards by direction... decent game, Terence Steele... pic.twitter.com/wlNaJHcih9— Pat Doney (@PatDoneyNBC5) October 10, 2021
Dallas is one game away from seeing La’el Collins return from suspension, but it will be interesting to see how Steele’s future with the team shakes out. Last season was a disaster in many ways, but one of the net gains was that Steele got valuable experience starting in the NFL as a UDFA rookie.
We are seeing that pay off in a number of ways.
Relying on depth isn’t dooming the Cowboys
Over the last however long you want to look at things, the Dallas Cowboys have generally floundered when adversity has hit their roster.
Mike McCarthy loves to talk about how many players it took for his Green Bay Packers to win the Super Bowl in 2010 and his current unit is being challenged in a similar sort of capacity. Consider who they have been operating without for most of the season so far:
- DeMarcus Lawrence
- Michael Gallup
- La’el Collins
- Neville Gallimore
- Donovan Wilson
- Kelvin Joseph
- Trysten Hill
Obviously not everybody on this list holds the same level of significance for the club, but the fact that the Cowboys are 4-1 while missing this collection of players for the significant majority of the season so far is a testament to the team’s roster-building and quality of depth. This hasn’t been the case in years past.
Ezekiel Elliott is contributing at a high level
The first two weeks of the season were a bit rough for Ezekiel Elliott and the second (the win against the Chargers) spawned quite the debate about Tony Pollard and whether or not he should be the team’s primary ball-carrier.
Many conversations have been had about Ezekiel Elliott since the Cowboys gave him the contract that they did over two years ago. We are not here to re-litigate any of that or drum up old debates. At present time it is impossible to dispute that Zeke is not only contributing at a high level to the offense, but he is playing some of the best football of his career.
BTB’s own Aidan Davis took a look at how Elliott is performing relative to his career history in terms of yards after contact per attempt (to illustrate the power he is running with) and the percent of rushes that are going for longer than 10 yards (in an effort to highlight speed).
We are seeing far more explosive runs from Zeke than we have seen in recent history (and certainly from Tony Pollard as well) which is only adding to the efficiency of the offense as a whole. Given who Zeke has been over the course of the last few seasons this felt like something we might never see again from him.
Consider that Elliott is off to one of the better starts of his career through five games from an overall perspective:
- 2016: 109 carries, 546 rushing yards, 5.01 YPC, 5 rushing touchdowns
- 2017: 105 carries, 393 rushing yards, 3.74 YPC, 2 rushing touchdowns
- 2018: 93 carries, 480 rushing yards, 5.16 YPC, 2 rushing touchdowns
- 2019: 85 carries, 386 rushing yards, 4.54 YPC, 4 rushing touchdowns
- 2020: 89 carries, 364 rushing yards, 4.01 YPC, 5 rushing touchdowns
- 2021: 85 carries, 452 rushing yards, 5.32 YPC, 5 rushing touchdowns
It is all very good to see.
Tyron Smith can still play at an elite level
Part of the reason for the Cowboys’ success in the run game has been the stability of the offensive line as a whole. We already discussed Terence Steele.
But man alive, Tyron Smith is superhuman.
Obviously the idea of Smith being one of the best football players is not foreign to us as Cowboys fans, but entering the season it was fair to wonder whether or not we would ever see him at an elite level again considering how sparingly he played in 2020.
Through the first five weeks of the season, Tyron Smith is PFF’s highest-graded pass blocker. He is also the third-ranked tackle in terms of run blocking (Zack Martin is the fourth overall run blocker among all linemen).
Welcome back, Tyron.
Trevon Diggs is the best cornerback in the NFL
Again, the spirit of our conversation (which you can listen to up top, friendly reminder since you made it all the way down here) was things we were wrong about, but that doesn’t mean that we were ever down on any of these possibilities. We just didn’t think they were all too likely.
Within this context there are surely many Cowboys fans who thought/expected Trevon Diggs to be a better player in 2021 than he was in 2020. He showed a ton of promise as a rookie so growth made sense.
But what we have seen through the first five games of the season isn’t just extremely good... it is historic.
Diggs is two games away (a tall order for even the most elite cornerbacks) from having the longest streak of interceptions since the NFL merger. The fact that he is even close is insane.
Conventional wisdom suggests that quarterbacks will eventually stop throwing at Diggs so this particular party might come to an end soon (we talked about this last week, but Mike Glennon decided to fan the flames), but we are already playing with house money so to speak as far as interceptions are concerned.
Trevon Diggs is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Maybe the best. What a time.