Well, it is safe to say the Dallas Cowboys were livid with how week nine turned out. Because that was not only a convincing win against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, but a message to the rest of the league that they are not to be messed with. So much for the “blueprint” that other teams thought they had after the Denver game.
It is fun to be in the win column again and even more fun to reflect on a 43-3 blowout victory. In a game with essentially only two quarters of meaningful football, where everything seemed to go right for the Cowboys, what did we learn?
The secondary has found their groove
It is the curse of the first few weeks. If Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis had started the year playing as they have been and then struggled for a week or two, no one would have given it a second thought. But because the pair stumbled early, assumptions began to solidify, and a decent number of fans had given up on them.
But over the last five games, Brown and Lewis have been on a tear.
Reflecting on the first four weeks, it is easy to see why they were receiving criticism. Brown had allowed a 67% completion percentage, two touchdowns, a 103.6 passer rating, and had forced two turnovers. Since then, it has been nearly perfect, as Brown is giving up a 43% completion percentage, no touchdowns, a 38.4 passer rating, and has forced another two turnovers.
And Lewis’ performance has been similarly encouraging. Through the first four games, Lewis had allowed a 63% completion percentage, one touchdown, a 78.2 passer rating, and had forced one interception. Since then, Lewis has allowed a 63% completion percentage, no touchdowns, a 59.8 passer rating, and forced another turnover. The improvement is not as drastic for Lewis, but he started off better than Brown did.
Now, we all know the ball-hawking ability of Trevon Diggs, and there is little else that needs to be said about the Cowboys’ Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Even if there is no additional improvement, meaning that Brown and Lewis play as they have over the past six weeks, the secondary will be special. Dallas has three cornerbacks that you can effectively trust to cover any team’s best wide receiver. We have to disregard the notions that we had after the beginning of the season because this unit is getting hot at the perfect time.
Micah Parsons needs more pass rush snaps while Gregory and Lawrence are out
If you didn’t have a chance to see the game, it played out exactly as you would expect a 43-3 game to go. The Cowboys dominated in nearly every way. However, if you are going to criticize one aspect of the game, it would be the pass rush.
Don’t get me wrong; the pass-rush wasn’t all bad. However, Dallas didn’t get to Matt Ryan as much as they should have. For a bit of context, the Cowboys were generating 19 pressures and 13 quarterback hurries per game coming into Sunday. Against the Falcons, they had just 13 pressures and eight hurries.
You can discount it as a slightly down game, or maybe it is because the Falcons only ran 53 plays. But there were times where it seemed like Matt Ryan had all day to throw in the pocket. And according to PFF, Atlanta has the fifth-worst pass-blocking offensive line. The Cowboys’ pass rush should have been better.
But this isn’t an indictment on the pass rush in general. Between DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory being out, the Cowboys are missing 37 total pressures, five sacks, eight quarterback hits, and 24 quarterback hurries in 2021. It is reasonable the pass rush would decline a little bit with both being out.
The issue is that Parsons only had seven pass-rushing snaps, his lowest total of the year.
With both Lawrence and Gregory missing time, the Cowboys need their best remaining pass rusher getting to the quarterback, and that person is Micah Parsons. Parsons is the best defender by PFF’s pass-rushing grade, has the best win rate and pressures per pass rush snap. And all of those stats include Gregory and Lawrence.
The argument that Parsons was drafted to be an inside linebacker is reasonable, and he will have a long career to fill that role. But given the cards the Cowboys have been dealt this year, he will have to come off the edge.
Parsons needs to see his pass-rush snaps increase if the Cowboys are going to get to the quarterback over the next few weeks. And with Patrick Mahomes up next on the schedule, he will take advantage of a clean pocket if the Cowboys give him one. Parsons is the easy solution to this.
John Fassel deserves more credit
This is yet another case of the early week bias. John Fassel started slow, and as a result, a decent number of Cowboys fans were calling for his job. But few people are now discussing the impact that Fassel has had on this team in recent games.
The Dallas special teams was abysmal in the first four weeks, averaging two penalties per game for 14 yards and a special teams’ PFF grade of 63.4. But since then, Fassel’s squad has been averaging .6 penalties per game for five yards, with a 74.2 special teams’ grade. In fact, the Cowboys are now a top ten special teams on the year, according to Pro Football Focus. But penalties are not the only reason for this headline.
The Cowboys have now blocked three punts on the year, meaning that 6% of all opponents’ punts are blocked. To put that into perspective, 26 teams are still without a punt block on the year.
The #Cowboys have blocked three punts this season.— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) November 14, 2021
They blocked one total punt during the Jason Garrett era (2010-2019)
Obviously, one of those blocks didn’t go in the Cowboys’ favor, and maybe the other two are just flukes that aren’t sustainable. But the impact of a punt block, especially when it is recovered for a touchdown, is massive.
If you don’t see a punt block as an incredible swing in momentum, here is a transcript of the call when the Cowboys blocked the Falcons punt: “Blocked, it’s loose… This place [AT&T Stadium] is losing its mind.”
Over the last five weeks, Fassel has produced drastic swings in momentum in a facet of the game that is largely irrelevant. The assumptions we had after week four are hard to change. But Fassel has pumped energy into the special teams unit, resulting in big play after big play. He deserves proper credit.
Dak is back
If you regularly read these takeaway articles, you know that they avoid individual performances that don’t produce new information. But this week, a notable exception is made because Dak Prescott is officially back.
After a horrendous Broncos game, it had essentially been four weeks since we had seen MVP-caliber Dak. For the most part, we all expected him to bounce back eventually. But nobody was quite expecting this performance after possibly the worst game of his career.
Dak Prescott threw for 296 yards on a 90% adjusted completion percentage, accounting for 15 first downs and scoring on 80% of his first-half drives. Dak had the best quarterback EPA per play in week ten and the third-best PFF offensive grade among quarterbacks, all while sitting out the entire fourth quarter.
Dak enters right back into the MVP conversation with a spectacular performance in week ten. If you want a takeaway for this section, week nine was a complete anomaly on an otherwise record-setting year for the Cowboys quarterback.
We can all exhale a sigh of relief knowing that not only is Dak completely healthy, but he is mad about what happened against the Broncos. Sleep tight this week Cowboys fans, because Dallas’ QB1 is back in a big way.
When the Cowboys play a complete game, they are practically unstoppable
This is the game we have been waiting for all year. Not that the Eagles, Giants, or Panthers game was a bad performance by any stretch, but they all had their weak points.
To illustrate, Dallas was losing to the Panthers at halftime, tied with the Giants with one minute left in the second quarter, and tied with the Eagles for most of the first quarter. Now, those were three games the Cowboys ended up winning convincingly, but there hadn’t been a start-to-finish clean game from Dallas yet.
That is, until Sunday.
The Cowboys played mistake-free football outside of Ezekiel Elliott’s fumble, which was more of a great defensive play than anything. And Dallas proved that, in a clean game, they are unbeatable.
This is the eighth-largest point differential in a Dallas Cowboys victory since the merger and the largest point differential in a game where they didn’t allow a touchdown.
Additionally, the 36 points scored by the Cowboys in the first half of today's game against Atlanta are the most points scored in a half by Dallas since scoring 38 against San Francisco in 1980 (10/12).— Dallas Cowboys Public Relations (@DallasCowboysPR) November 14, 2021
We’ve touched on Dak’s elite playmaking, the improvement in the secondary, the coaching prowess of this team, and the Pro Bowl-caliber players the defense will soon get back. So, where is the weakness in this team?
To date, the weak spot has been the Cowboys getting in their own way. But on Sunday, they proved that they can beat a .500 team by 40 points if they can avoid mistakes. Playing perfect football is impossible, but if they just start and finish strong, they can win against anyone.
A ten-to-fourteen-point victory would have gone a long way in proving the Broncos game was a fluke. But winning by 40 is a statement to the rest of the league. It doesn’t matter what gimmicks Mike McCarthy had to pull out to warrant this type of performance; what matters is the Cowboys are back on top.
The Chiefs are next up on the schedule. It is a matchup between one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and Patrick Mahomes. But the Chiefs are not the Falcons, and with their convincing win against the Raiders, it is set to be a fun one. But let’s enjoy a week back in the win column for now.