THE DALLAS COWBOYS ARE GOING TO THE SUPERBOWL! Well, with apologies to Scooter Magruder for stealing his line, that is how a few fans are reacting to the week 2 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. After taking the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers down to the wire, Dallas now sits 1-1 and there are a lot of positive things that just may indicate that they are now a real contender in the NFC, as well as the class of their division. But this is a very small sample size with a lot of football still to come. There are two sides to the story, which draws our David Howman and Tom Ryle to the subject like iron to a magnet.
Tom: Last year, injuries derailed the season before it ever started. Already, the 2021 edition of the Cowboys have faced a game against a tough opponent in the Chargers with six of their projected starters from preseason out, and while it was a close, they prevailed. That alone inspires a ton of optimism in me. As long as Dak Prescott stays healthy this team has a chance against anyone. And don’t minimize the severity of the injuries and other absences so far. While they have fortunately avoided any season-ending ones, they have seen a similar cluster on the defensive line as they saw with the offensive line last year. Creative coaching and the presence of budding superstar Micah Parsons allowed them to overcome things and get the badly needed dub. Now the schedule looks a lot easier all the way beyond the bye in week 7. I think they are about to stack a bunch of wins that will help carry them easily into the playoffs.
David: There are plenty of things to like about the Cowboys so far, but nothing close to suggesting this team is a true contender. Their loss to the Buccaneers was expected, because it’s Tom Brady, but any NFC team that wants to make it to the Super Bowl will likely have to go through them to get there. Or maybe Aaron Rodgers, if this past Monday Night Football is anything to go off of. We already know Dallas is incapable of beating Tampa Bay, even if they hung with them.
And as for the Chargers, they’re a trendy playoff pick but have yet to actually validate that optimism. They struggled to score against a Washington defense that just gave up 29 points to a Giants offense run by Jason Garrett and featuring Daniel Jones under center. Not to mention that the Chargers beat themselves more than the Cowboys won; Los Angeles had two different touchdowns called back because of penalties - both of those drives netted three total points in the end - and they missed a field goal right before halftime. It certainly looked like Dallas did what they always do: played down to the level of their opponent. So now they’re facing some not-so-good teams for the next few weeks. So what? That just tells me we’re about to see a few weeks of bad Cowboys football.
Tom: Incapable of beating Tampa Bay? You can make the same arguments about how close they came as you can for the Chargers just missing out. This is a team that is depending on a couple of rookies to start (very well, I might add) on defense and is already having to shuffle both lines around. Now they are going to have the offensive line stable for a week with the surprisingly strong performance of Terence Steele to work with.
And after showing how they could strike through the air in Week 1, they unleashed a potent running game by finally using both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard at good clips. On both offense and defense, it speaks to the coaching. Kellen Moore conducted a clinic in how to find the weak points in both games so far, and Dan Quinn has his unit playing much better than last year. While rookies have a growing curve, the free agent additions have to settle in with their new team, and that bodes well after what we saw from the trio of FA safeties in Los Angeles.
I also debate the idea of playing down to their competition, given how many projected starters were out against the Chargers. That was a game where they rose to the challenge. I am very optimistic that the trend will continue with Moore and Quinn finding vulnerabilities and answers against the Philadelphia Eagles. The weapons are there for Dallas, and they are being wielded well. The arrow is pointing in the right direction for this team.
David: I’ll grant you that this coaching staff is doing a bang-up job, but at the risk of sprouting red hair, these players still have to execute. CeeDee Lamb had a bad case of the drops in Week 1 and a variety of self-inflicted wounds kept the Cowboys offense from scoring any more touchdowns after dropping 14 in the first quarter on Sunday. Defensively, takeaways are the only thing keeping Dallas from being blown out in both games, and history tells us takeaways are extremely random. Even on special teams, Greg Zuerlein was unreliable against Tampa Bay and Azur Kamara ruined a great call from John Fassel in the Chargers game.
Did you know that Dallas is the ninth-most penalized team in the NFL right now? It’s no coincidence that the two teams they’ve played thus far are ahead of them in terms of penalties. The Cowboys’ next opponent, the Eagles, leads the NFL in penalties. Dallas is a sloppy team that has benefitted from their opponents playing sloppy. Brilliant scheming from these coaches, and Dak Prescott being Dak Prescott, has helped them go 1-1. But sloppy teams don’t make it very far in the playoffs. So while this may be a playoff team by virtue of winning a pretty weak division, I haven’t seen any evidence of a team that’s primed to do anything once they get there.
Tom: OK, you puzzled me with that bit about penalties. Yes, the Bucs and the Chargers are among the league’s worst in penalties against, but the Eagles being the most penalized team in the league argues that the Cowboys stand a decent chance of coming out on top of things. But outside of that, I have to look at how the team has gone about its business the first two games. On both offense and defense, they have used very different approaches in adapting to the opponent. That is something that can be sustainable since it is about the wiles of the coaching staff, and so far Moore and Quinn have been somewhere between very good and brilliant. Add how they have have so many players currently out that will be coming back, plus the talent they still have on the field at multiple positions, and I think we already have enough evidence to say they are one of the early contenders. That can change, but if they get the win I expect on Monday night, my position will just get stronger.