Being a Dallas Cowboys fan is fun. Now, at least. Let’s be honest, things have been a lot less enjoyable in the majority of seasons for, um, a quarter of a century. 2021 has brought some on-field success and burgeoning optimism. More importantly, things seem on a solid footing. That is at least partly due to there being so many aspects that are going surprisingly well.
With almost a quarter of the season gone (insert your own grumblings about the 17-game schedule) it seems a good time for a review of things. And we aren’t going to dig around for negatives. So put on your happy face and let’s look at some things that are contributing to the won-loss record and the all around good feelings.
This one needs some subheadings, because there are more of these than you may realize.
The big one
That, of course, is Dak Prescott. The media outlets who pick a Comeback Play of the Year might as well go ahead and shut down the voting. Prescott has proven he is right back playing at a high level. He can put up big numbers when the team needs it, but so far that has not been a regular thing. That is a plus. His efficiency is superb with the second best completion percentage in the league at 75.2%. He has a 10-to-2 touchdown to interception ratio. His 116.9 passer rating is fourth among quarterbacks who have thrown at least 50 passes this season. Oh, and he showed in the most recent victory over the Carolina Panthers that he can still get yards with his legs when he needs to.
This season was always going to go as Rayne Dakota went. It looks like that could be quite a way.
Prime Zeke is also back
Use your own pop culture time travel reference here, because Ezekiel Elliott looks at least as good as he has since his huge rookie year. After several seasons bemoaning his lack of big runs, he showed us he still has that in him.
Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott rips off 47-yard carry. Longest rush since rookie year. Against a D that arrived allowing 45 rushing yards per game.pic.twitter.com/QrNH5Ksz4e— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) October 3, 2021
There is an interesting interplay between the success of Elliott and his running mate Tony Pollard and that of Prescott. The air and ground games are both operating at high efficiency for Dallas, which means opposing defenses are going to get caught one way or another. To have the players involved doing so well just amplifies the chances for success.
Oh, and that O line is suddenly back
For several years the Cowboys line was coasting on past glory. They just were not the road graders and pass protectors wall we saw in the mid teens. But unexpectedly, they are looking once more to be one of the best in the NFL. Behind them, Dallas is second in the league in rushing, and Prescott has only been sacked seven times, including none in week 4. Elliott, a beneficiary of the improved play, put things this way.
Ezekiel Elliott when asked about the Cowboys’ offense changing over the years, going from him being the central figure to the QB being the central figure: “I think the central figure of our offense is the offensive line. How they go is how we go.”— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) October 6, 2021
Leading the way is a comeback in his own right, Tyron Smith. After offseason surgery, he no longer is fighting constant neck issues and is once again locking down defensive ends. Zack Martin is back to being his glorious self after a few games on IR to end last season. Connor Williams remains underappreciated by casual fans. Tyler Biadasz is the weakest link, but seems to be improving. The interior of the line allowed no sacks, no QB hits, and no pressures against the Panthers.
Nothing has been a bigger or more pleasant surprise than the play of Terence Steele. Although he is getting some scheme help, he is far from the overwhelmed player forced into action by the injuries in 2020. At the very least, he looks like a lock to be the swing tackle for a year or two. And if La’el Collins keeps poking the beast that is Roger Goodell, he may have a bigger role. Everybody wants to see Collins back because he is that good. but you can count on him until he is off suspension and ready to go.
A defense that is exciting for all the right reasons
Takeaways. A sudden flurry of sacks last game. A couple of rookies that are playing lights out, with a third starting to enter the conversation. And that man roaming the secondary. All have led to things like this.
The Cowboys' defense gets better with each week. Check out what they've accomplished so far...— Danny Phantom (@DannyPhantom24) October 7, 2021
vs TB: Never allowed consecutive scores
vs LAC: Only 1 TD allowed
vs PHI: 7-straight stops to start the game
vs CAR: 6-straight stops at one point
This is not your typical Cowboys D
Between Micah Parsons, Osa Odighizuwa, and Chauncey Golston, this year’s draft already looks like a solid winner. The trio of free-agent safeties, Damontae Kazee, Jayron Kearse, and Malik Hooker, have given us the best group at that position we have seen in forever, even with Donovan Wilson out with injury. And another free agent, Keanu Neal, was a key reason the Cowboys no longer needed Jaylon Smith on the roster.
But the star of stars so far is Trevon Diggs. Leading the league in interceptions with five, two more than the next player, he is a one man air defense system. If he continues at anything like the pace he is on, Defensive Player of the Year honors could be on the horizon.
Oddly, he did discuss the one remaining concern for the D.
In 2021, the Cowboys’ defense has given up 19 plays of 20-plus yards through the air (2nd most in the league).— Brianna Dix (@DixBrianna) October 7, 2021
Trevon Diggs: “Everything that we gave up so far was because of us. Something that we did. Nothing that the offense did or anything.”
That attitude, however, is exactly what this defense needs. They are not satisfied with what they have done and seek to improve. Taking responsibility like that speaks volumes.
Dan Quinn’s role in all this is inestimable. There is just a new attitude on defense. They are aggressive and ball-hawking. Those were traits that were sorely lacking for a very long time. It helps to have one ball hawk that is so superlative, but it still is something that could carry over as time goes on.
Clean up those busted plays, and this could be a formidable bunch.
In Moore we trust
While Mike McCarthy has taken some criticism (although the view is changing for some of us), he has done one thing that is perfect. He has given Kellen Moore full rein of the offense. The offensive coordinator has been excellent and at times brilliant. In the past two games especially he has just seemed to come up with the right call at the right times for the most part. With the defense beginning to yield fewer points, he is just outscoring the opponent and that has led to two wins in a row where Dallas seemed completely in control for much of the game.
And talk about fun.
It’s time to declare the Cowboys’ fullback experiment with backup guard Connor McGovern a success. In past two games, he’s played six snaps there. Both goal-line chances were touchdowns. Other four runs gained 28 yards.— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) October 4, 2021
One way the Cowboys are keeping the 308-pounder involved. pic.twitter.com/vB7waUtBre
This is a bit of innovation by Moore that not only should continue until teams find a way to stop it (if they can) it is something that may have been overlooked by a lot of other teams. Offensive linemen have steadily gotten more athletic. Gone are the days of big, fat guys who just were hard to run around. Now they are big, strong, and often quite agile athletes. Moore has taken that and created a new way to clear the road for his running game. Now let us hope he takes the next step and has the handoff go to McGovern, or leak him out and throw him the ball. Just once or twice, even if it doesn’t succeed, creates a new wrinkle that defensive coordinators have to worry about. Any kind of pass with McGovern on the field, such as a screen where he is out there leveling defensive backs, also becomes a headache for the other team. What could have been a one-time trick play could become a small, but steady, part of the offense.
When is the last time we saw that kind of creativity, and the willingness to go back to it? There was a time that it seemed that a creative and successful play call would somehow be locked away after it worked once in a game for the Cowboys. Moore seems to be saying “Oh, did you like that the first time? Here it is again.”
You gotta love it.
Dallas still has lots of room for improvement, but already this looks like one of the best rosters in years with coaching that can maximize the talent at hand. We will see on Sunday if they can take care of business against the New York Giants. If they can, then this very enjoyable ride may be far from over.