Going through the bye week when the Dallas Cowboys are riding a five-game winning streak is like telling a kid he cannot get anything as you walk him through a candy shop. At this point, we are craving more Dallas football. But the bye week is over, and we officially have a matchup to look forward to.
However, we should not dismiss the first six weeks of the season. Did you expect the Cowboys to be 5-1 with a three-and-a-half-game lead on the division coming out of the bye? Unless you are eternally optimistic, the most likely answer is no. So, what are the biggest storylines from the Cowboys’ impressive start to the season?
The offense is better than we hoped it would be
After the first five games of 2020, there were reasons to believe this could be a top-five offense in 2021. But what the Dallas offense has accomplished through six weeks is unprecedented.
Coming into this season, there was speculation that the offensive line and running game would hold the offense back. Unfortunately for opposing defenses, there isn’t an apparent weakness on this side of the ball.
Dallas is the only team that ranks top six in every PFF offensive category; total offense, passing, pass blocking, receiving, rushing, and run blocking. The Cowboys are able to score however they so choose, and the lack of any weak spots essentially makes the offense unstoppable.
Their ability to score is highlighted when we look at their per drive numbers. Dallas is currently scoring on 52% of their drives, trailing only the Bills, and punting on just 21% of their drives, second-lowest to only the Chiefs.
Sure, there are some players that we expected more of coming into this year. But as a whole, they are playing at an entirely different level than most other offenses. If their current points per game of 34.2 stays constant, that will be the highest total since MVP Patrick Mahomes led the Chiefs offense to 34.8 points per game in 2018.
Maybe a slight regression is on the horizon. But with Kellen Moore and Dak Prescott leading this team, there is no indication the offense will be slowing down any time soon. This production exceeds any hopes that we had for this team coming into this year.
We shouldn’t be sold on the defense just yet
This might be blasphemous for some to hear, but the defense might be performing above a sustainable level. Not to take any credit away from Dan Quinn, even if the defense regresses to the mean, they are still exponentially better than 2020. But a drop-off might be coming.
By EPA per play allowed, the Cowboys are eighth in the NFL. That is outstanding within itself, and the improvement we have seen should not be taken lightly. However, the Cowboys have benefited the second most from turnovers in their EPA per play calculation. Meaning that if you exclude every teams’ takeaways, Dallas would fall in their ranking by about twelve spots.
It should be noted that turnovers are not due to luck alone; some teams are better at generating takeaways than others. And the Cowboys are one of those teams. But in the second half of the schedule, and come January, Dallas will face teams that know how to protect the ball. If the turnovers don’t come, the Cowboys’ defense might seem vulnerable.
Currently, the Cowboys are only allowing five fewer yards per game than they did in the horrendous 2020 season. Additionally, they are surrendering the third-highest yards per rushing attempt and the fourth-highest yards per play.
But they have succeeded by forcing the highest percentage of turnovers per drive at 20.6%. Since the league leader last season was at 15.6%, this number is likely to regress.
With teams like the Cardinals, Raiders, and Vikings, offenses that do not turn the ball over, remaining on Dallas’ schedule, it will be a good test for the defense to see how they perform when the takeaways don’t come. There is no reason to worry just yet, but the defensive production so far might not be sustainable.
The Cowboys’ coaching staff is top-three in the league
Dak Prescott is an MVP contender, and he has singlehandedly willed the Cowboys to a win on several occasions. But the coaching staff might be the most impressive aspect of this team through six weeks.
Kellen Moore headlines this takeaway. In addition to the stats listed in the first storyline, Dak’s success under Moore has been incredible. Across his 75-game career thus far, Prescott is averaging 23.4 points per game without Kellen Moore as the offensive coordinator and 29.7 with him.
And the fun part about this season is that the leadership is equally impressive on the other side of the ball. Yes, given the last takeaway, the defense might regress. But even if that happens, the defensive improvement is still unbelievable.
Dan Quinn inherited a defense ranked 21st by EPA per play allowed and 28th by points per game allowed. After just one offseason, he now has the defense ranked eighth by EPA per play and 19th by points per game allowed. He was able to do all of that despite missing his best defensive player for nearly the entire stretch. Maybe the regression happens, but Quinn is the real deal regardless.
Even John Fassel has the special teams playing well. The first two games were disastrous for Fassel’s squad, but things have turned around since then. On average, opposing offenses are starting their drive from the 24-yard line, the furthest distance from the endzone over that stretch. Even Greg Zuerlein has only missed one field goal since week two, which was not entirely his fault. Fassel seems to have fixed things.
And Mike McCarthy is the one leading this all. There have been a lot of arguments attempting to give McCarthy proper credit for this year, so there is not a lot more that needs to be said. But all of the arguments are true. We shouldn’t cherry-pick the coaches we give credit to while ignoring the head coach’s impact on a team.
This is a top-three coaching staff, loaded with excellent decision-makers at every level. Regardless of what happens after the season, we should be thankful these coaches are all in Dallas for now.
Discipline is an area of concern
With a top-three offense, a drastically improved defense, and excellent leadership, the only thing holding this team back is themselves. Hopefully, this issue was addressed with the extra week off, but if not, it could end up costing the Cowboys a few games.
Dallas is currently second in the NFL by penalties per game, the sole leader by first downs given up from penalties, and sixth in penalty yards per game. Of all the things this coaching staff has done right, teaching this team to avoid mistakes is not one of them.
It was impressive to see the Cowboys rebound from an ugly first half in the Patriots and Giants games, but they would not have needed to overcome the mistakes if they had avoided them in the first place. Against a team below .500, these mistakes won’t ruin a game. But if they continue against a top-five team, it could derail any chance of winning.
Even turnovers have been a problem. The defenses’ ability to generate takeaways has led to one of the best turnovers margins in the league, but it could be better. They are currently middle of the pack by percent of drives that end in a turnover.
Playing mistake-free football would go a long way in raising the ceiling for this team. Avoiding turnovers, penalties, and any other self-inflicted mistakes needs to be priority number one right now.
Dallas is a Super Bowl contender
Don’t get “contender” confused with “favorite.” The Cowboys are a team that should compete in January, but since we are only seven weeks into the season, a lot can happen. With that said, Dallas has a real shot at the Lombardi this year.
To preface, here is the current likelihood the Cowboys win the Super Bowl from various outlets:
- Football Outsiders: 7%
- Five ThirtyEight: 7%
- DraftKings sportsbook: 6.7%
Since it is still early in the season, the team with the highest odds across those three sources is the Buffalo Bills, who average around an 18% chance. So once again, Dallas is not the Super Bowl favorite.
However, going into this season, few expected the Cowboys to be as competitive as they have been. They have established themselves as one of the best teams in the league, and with the help of a drastically improved defense, their ceiling is now the Super Bowl.
As Cowboys’ fans, we can be both optimistic of the possibility they are competing in February while also acknowledging that they will likely be out of the playoffs by then. But what we have learned through the first six games is that they have as good of a chance of reaching the Super Bowl as they have had over the last 25 years.
With eleven games left, many of the storylines that we will be talking about when the season ends have yet to be revealed. However, these are just a few of the takeaways through the first six weeks. It has been an exciting season so far, and we should be allowed to bask in the success.
Hopefully, Dallas has addressed a few of the weaknesses during the bye week, and they look as polished as ever on Halloween night. The optimism is rising, and through six weeks, there is a genuine reason to believe in this team.
Disclaimer: Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.