It’s time for the Dallas Cowboys to start a win streak. After getting through the first two games of the season 1-1, they face the Philadelphia Eagles in the AT&T Stadium home opener. After facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Los Angeles Chargers, Philly is expected to be an easier matchup for Dallas, disrespect intended. The three games after are also believed to be very winnable for the Cowboys. Getting the win Monday night within the division could be a tone setter. Of course, the Eagles are eager to get a division win as well, and want to bounce back after a disappointing game against the San Francisco 49ers.
We definitely want to see Dallas come out on top, and to do so, there are certain things we want to see in the game.
Let’s keep this thunder and lighting thing going
After Tony Pollard had a tremendous game in the Chargers win, many began calling for him to take touches away from Ezekiel Elliott. This is why we can’t have nice things in Cowboys Nation. When we have something that is almost perfect, people find some reason to demand change.
The Cowboys got 180 yards rushing from the combined use of Elliott and Pollard. With the passing game led by Dak Prescott in tandem, that will win you a whole bunch of football games. Yet just because Pollard had the edge and more long runs, people want to disrupt what worked so very well. You know that thing about not fixing something that isn’t broke? Let’s consider applying that here. It’s not like Elliott had a terrible day. He had 71 yards on the ground. There were only ten players who had more than he did in Week 2, and three of them were quarterbacks. Dallas had two of the top ten running backs for the week. It is easy to make an argument for synergy playing a role in the success of the two.
Further, the Cowboys did deploy some two-back packages with them, and that no longer feels like a short yardage or conservative approach. When they do so, the defense will respond with their own grouping, usually a “base” defense with a combination of seven total DL and LB on the field. Given how effective both Pollard and Elliott have been in the passing game, that can be a way for Kellen Moore to confound the defense by motioning one of his backs out as a receiver, probably Pollard given how superb Elliott is as a QB protector. Or he can really mess with their minds by going empty backfield with both RBs running routes.
Moore already made a balance of touches for Elliott and Pollard go like a Ferrari. Why in the world would we want to see him give up the keys to that?
Speaking of Kellen...
Imagine being Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jonathon Gannon. He is trying to figure out how to handle the Cowboys based on the video of the first two games. Those two games show almost completely different but very effective offensive approaches. Does he focus on the threat of Prescott going off for 400 yards again as he did in Week 1? Or does he worry about the over 200 yards on the ground that Moore found on Sunday? What is the real identity of the Dallas offense?
We discussed this idea as a whole along with a few other things in the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our episodes. Apple devices can subscribe here while Spotify users can subscribe right here.
Just like with the bogus Elliott vs Pollard question, the answer seems to be both. There is a reason that Moore is really being talked up for a head coaching job. Based on the evidence so far, he is that versatile. His absolutely beautiful quote about aggressively taking what the defense gives you is so great because it is not just talk. He walks the walk as well.
We want to see that continue. The good news is that this seems to be baked into Moore’s DNA. He is not just flexible, he is creative and not afraid to throw a little kinky stuff into the mix. The NFL coaching fraternity skews to the staid and conservative. That is why inventive minds like Moore’s stand out. If he does what we want and continues to diagnose and exploit the weaknesses of the defense the way he has the first two games, Gannon is going to have a long evening on Monday.
Find the role of the week for Micah
Dan Quinn has his own version of coming up with what the team needs. It is named Micah Parsons. In week one, Parsons had an impressive debut as a linebacker. In week two, he had an equally if not more impressive debut as an EDGE rusher. In a league where specialization is the trend for most positions, he is a Renaissance man, with a wealth of different talents.
This may be a week where he gets to meld the roles he played in the first two. Jalen Hurts is emerging as a legitimate starting QB for the Eagles. He is not a major threat so far as a passer, only ranking 26th in yards per game so far, but he brings a dual-threat nature. Remember above the fact that three of the players that had more rushing yards than Elliott in Week 2 were QBs? Hurts was one of them, getting 82 yards on the ground to offset only 190 passing.
He is a player that almost cries out for using a fast, talented defender that can pass rush effectively and chase him down when he takes off. That is exactly what Parsons is. Quinn successfully used him to his best ability in both games so far. We certainly want to see the DC do it again. If he does, Hurts could also face a rough time Monday.
The trend on defense needs to keep going up
The line held up surprisingly well in the absence of DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, partly thanks to Parsons. Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch really stepped up and were not a detriment at all. Trevon Diggs had a great game and Jourdan Lewis was quietly good. And it has been years if not decades since we saw this good a performance from the safeties even without Donovan Wilson.
Give kudos to Quinn for doing a better job putting his players in a position to succeed, but just as important has been the work of the individual players. Osa Odighizuwa has been overshadowed by Parsons, but his work as a rookie is excellent and has gone a long way to steadying the interior of the D line. Jayron Kearse, Damontae Kazee, and Malik Hooker are simple evidence of what a difference it makes to actually have some talent on the back end of the defense. At all levels of the defense, the Cowboys seem far more competent than they have been in years. That includes players like Smith and Vander Esch upping their game when the team needs them to.
In a sense, it all does circle back to Quinn. He has found a way to light a fire in his players. They are showing more confidence as well as ability. That may be a key to the next thing.
Takeaways are good
Win the turnover battle, and you win a lot of games. After struggling to get the ball away from opponents for years and having an early spate of not taking care of the ball last season, Dallas is leading the league in turnover margin for the first two weeks of the season. Turnovers are unpredictable, rely a lot on luck, and are very difficult to manufacture. That newfound confidence under Quinn may be the biggest thing that has contributed to a change for the Cowboys. Being in the right place, being aggressive, and having some ball skills all increase the chances of intercepting a pass or forcing a fumble. We have seen all that in good measure.
Now, about that clock management
This has been a different week for this little exercise, because all of the first five things listed were good things that we want to see continue. But things are not perfect. The Cowboys have had some bad clock management at the end of halves and only Greg Zuerlein’s booming field goal at the end of the Chargers game pulled out the win in regulation.
Mike McCarthy has fully embraced the delegation of the game plan and execution to his coordinators. But clock management late in the half still falls on his shoulders. While letting Moore and Quinn handle things should be something he is credited for, most don’t fully appreciate that. (We will not rekindle the John Fassel arguments here.) That just makes properly utilizing the time at the end of halves more prominent in how McCarthy is viewed.
There are some arguments that the issues may be overstated, but it is not debatable that there was obvious confusion just before Zuerlein’s heroics. McCarthy needs to make sure that does not happen again. Hopefully, the game against the Eagles will not be another one score affair with a win or a loss riding on the last minute or two of things. Division games are often that kind of thing, unfortunately. McCarthy has to be prepared to handle that, not only on Monday, but for the inevitable close games to come later in the season.