It is a bit embarrassing to admit, but I was one of many who decried how the level of talent had declined for the Dallas Cowboys from last season to this. With the departure of Amari Cooper, La’el Collins, Randy Gregory, Cedrick Wilson, and Connor Williams, to name the more significant ones, it looked like the team had taken a clear step back. The moves to fill the resulting roster holes during the offseason were uninspiring. It even appeared that the ownership was setting head coach Mike McCarthy up as a scapegoat if things went wrong. It brought to mind a saying that former Dallas head coach and Hall of Fame member Jimmy Johnson appropriated from college football. “It’s not the Xs and Os, it’s the Jimmys and Joes.” A team needs good coaching, but it has to have the talent to succeed.
Now, with the team overcoming the loss of Dak Prescott for several games to win three in a row, that looks like a very bad take. It isn’t just about the way the fan base sees things, either. Take a few minutes to bask in what knowledgeable and insightful Brian Baldinger had to say about the defense.
.@dallascowboys defense is so fast; so much speed…and freak athletes at every level. Jimmy built his mini dynasty on SPEED! This group reminds me of that group. Keep building the swag, and keep taking the ball away. #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/Y7AoR0M4T9— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) October 3, 2022
“Full of freak athletes at every level.” This is a tribute to how the Cowboys have built this defense, with a mix of veteran studs like Donovan Wilson and DeMarcus Lawrence reinforced by recent additions like Micah Parsons and Malik Hooker. This is in no way disrespectful of the job Dan Quinn has done deploying his players. But even the best chefs can do so much more with the best ingredients. Right now, Quinn has nothing but pure quality in his kitchen.
During Prescott’s absence, the defense has been leading the way, not allowing a single team to score more than 19 points or one touchdown against Dallas thus far. And to be fair, we knew they had a lot of talent on that side of the ball despite losing Gregory. The big worry was the offense. Not only did they have the roster losses, they knew that Michael Gallup would miss at least a few games, they had Tyron Smith go on IR in camp, and then Prescott was hurt. With only CeeDee Lamb as a proven receiver and having to cobble together a starting offensive line, things looked grim.
Then something strange happened. The offense began to come together and the Cowboys got the wins. It was more a case of being enough rather than dominating, as they have themselves struggled to get touchdowns, but all that matters is that your number on the scoreboard is bigger than the other team’s.
Tyron Smith’s injury meant that first-round pick Tyler Smith had to go back to his college position at left tackle after spending all camp to that point working at guard. Given his collegiate history of penalties, there was plenty of reason for a bit of apprehension. That has been allayed by his performance to date. He has kept away from excessive penalties and displayed an impressive combination of strength, balance, and still developing technique to become a big plus for the line. His selection in the draft was seen as a long-term plan to eventually replace Tyron. The future is now. While Tyron is possibly returning from IR before the end of the season, he may well be kept as a reserve. There is no reason to reshuffle things with Tyler doing so well.
The rest of the line has held up well. Of course, there were never any concerns about future Hall of Fame right guard Zack Martin. Terence Steele has been more than solid at right tackle. Center Tyler Biadasz is not talked about much, and that is a good thing as he quietly is getting the job done. Left guard has been a bit in flux as Connor McGovern has also missed time. Matt Farniok has had some struggles, but Jason Peters is being ramped up and McGovern returned to action last game. The feared collapse of the line simply did not happen. In the case of Tyler Smith, the team got a bigger infusion of talent than we could have hoped. And the rest are better than we thought.
Lamb got off to a slow start, but there is no question he is trending in the right direction as WR1.
With each new week, CeeDee Lamb has gotten better...— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 2, 2022
Week 1: 29 yards, catch rate 18%, 0 TD
Week 2: 75 yards, catch rate 64%, 0 TD
Week 3: 87 yards, catch rate 67%, 1 TD
Week 4: 97 yards, catch rate 75%, 1 TD
Now Gallup is back after only missing three weeks, and while he was clearly on a pitch count, he still got two receptions on three targets and scored a touchdown. With him back, WR1 and WR2 are in good hands. Still, the worries before the season were about what to do at WR3.
Enter what may become one of the best stories of the year for the Cowboys, Noah Brown. After hanging around the team mostly as a special teams contributor over four seasons, with his best year receiving totaling 16 catches for 184 yards, and no touchdown in any season, he has already notched 18 catches for 274 yards and his first ever TD. He and Lamb are both on track for 1,000 yard seasons, and Gallup will soon start adding more numbers. This suddenly looks like a far better wide receiver group than we had imagined.
And don’t forget that most of the passes they have caught have been thrown by Cooper Rush, who has become an unexpected hero for the team. He is the most successful backup quarterback in the league. That may not make him the best, but it also may. Instead of Dallas falling behind in the race to get to the playoffs, they are now right in the thick of things at 3-1. That puts them in a four-way tie for the second best record in the NFC, with only their beloved division rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles, still undefeated in the league. The Cowboys still have struggled to get touchdowns, but another unexpectedly good addition to the team, Brett Maher, makes just getting reasonably close to the end zone a chance to add points. And their point total is another thing that is trending upwards, as they have scored more each game than the last, and put at least 20 up in each of Rush’s starts.
If there is one area that is still a bit uncertain, it is the running game. Dallas has been up and down, but hopefully as the offensive line continues to gel and the passing threat grows, that will come together as well. With Prescott coming back, the offense could be putting up bigger numbers before long.
It all adds up to a more talented roster than we (me) thought it would be. We have to put some respect on what management has done building this team. It is also still pretty young. That is good news for the future. The NFL is a win now league, however. With this bunch bearing witness to Jimmy Johnson’s wisdom, that may be within reach for this year’s edition of this team.