Last year, the Dallas Cowboys learned quickly that Micah Parsons was a remarkable pass rusher. Sure, they would have figured it out eventually, but injuries to DeMarcus Lawrence and a COVID-reserve designation to Randy Gregory threw the rookie into pass-rushing duties early in the year. Parsons went on to record 13 sacks on the year, just 1.5 short of the rookie record set by Jevon Kearse back in 1999. He also finished second in the league in voting for Defensive Player of the Year behind T.J. Watt.
The early absences of two of the team’s best edge rushers turned out to be a blessing as it revealed the incredible pass-rushing skill set of the team’s new defensive star. It’s a role he continues to thrive in.
The Cowboys experienced another early-season injury this year when Dak Prescott went down in the opener. Thanks to some solid play by backup quarterback Cooper Rush, the Cowboys were able to win four of the five games Prescott missed. The offense hasn’t resembled anything close to the explosiveness they showcased last year, but they have found ways to do just enough to get it done. Here are three revelations the Cowboys have stumbled upon during Dak’s absence.
This offensive line can block
The Cowboys were hit with a couple of tough losses along the offensive line right out of the gate as Tyron Smith went down in training camp and Connor McGovern got hurt in Week 1. This put rookie Tyler Smith as the team’s new starting left tackle and second-year player Matt Farniok at left guard.
It hasn’t been without its bumps, but this young group of players has been blocking well. McGovern is back, Terence Steele is a rising star, and even center Tyler Biadasz is having his best season as a pro. Farniok is now being used periodically as a fullback.
The Cowboys' offensive line has been able to run block even when opposing defenses know it's coming. Rush’s arm isn’t scaring anyone, but the Cowboys have been able to run for 130+ yards in three of the last four games. Additionally, they are doing a good job pass protecting as well. Only two teams in the NFL have allowed fewer sacks than the Cowboys' offensive line this season.
With Rush at the helm, the Cowboys absolutely had to find ways to make the running game relevant, or else the offense would be in dire straits. Fortunately, they did, and this is something they should keep rolling with even with a new quarterback behind center.
Protecting the ball is job #1
There is no big secret that taking care of the ball is quite favorable and not doing so can be really bad. That’s football 101. And the Cowboys benefited greatly from protecting the ball during Prescott’s absence. The Cowboys never lost any of the games when Rush didn’t throw an interception. And when he finally got picked off against the Eagles on Sunday night, the Cowboys lost. Of course, Rush threw three interceptions that night, which would be hard for any team to overcome,
The Cowboys are more conservative with a quarterback like Rush than they are with Prescott who can make more plays down the field, but the team has seen how difficult it can be on their opponents when the Dallas offense doesn’t turn the ball over. This Cowboys defense is legit and gone are the days where the offense needs to take chances and air it out to win football games. That’s not to say they should dial things back for Dak, but there’s a lot to be gained from being a little extra cautious with the football and a little more choosy when you pick your moments.
These young tight ends can play
A reliable tight end can be a backup quarterback’s best friend and it was nice to have Dalton Schultz around after Prescott got hurt. That feeling was short-lived as Schultz got hurt in Week 3 and then again in Week 5, missing nearly three games of action.
Fortunately, the Cowboys have been able to leverage off rookie fourth-round pick Jake Ferguson and UDFA rookie Peyton Hendershot to fill in the voids. Both have come along really well as blockers and both offer something as a receiver. These guys have been a weapon for Rush and they should continue to offer the same security to Prescott.