The Cowboys ae 6-2 and heading into the bye week after scoring the most points any team has put up in a game this year. Only three teams in the league have a better record than Dallas right now, and two of them will have to play these Cowboys before the end of the year. Let’s take a moment to reflect on the timeline of events that’s led to this point.
- January 16, 2022: the Cowboys lose at home to the 49ers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs
- January 25, 2022: Saints head coach Sean Payton retires from coaching; that same day, Jerry Jones says he has “a lot to think about regarding these coaches” when asked if Mike McCarthy would return in 2022
- January 28, 2022: Jones says that McCarthy will coach the Cowboys in 2022 and that there was never any thought of making a change
- March 15, 2022: Randy Gregory agrees to a contract extension with the Cowboys, but backs out at the 11th hour due to some of the language of the contract; he later signs with the Broncos
- March 16, 2022: Amari Cooper is traded to the Browns in exchange for a fifth-round pick and a swap of sixth-round picks
- March 17, 2022: Cedrick Wilson and Connor Williams sign deals with the Dolphins; La’el Collins is also released with three years left on his contract
- March 18, 2022: the Cowboys re-sign Dorance Armstrong and add Dante Fowler and James Washington
- April 28, 2022: the Cowboys draft Tyler Smith in the first round, immediately labeled one of the worst picks in the draft
- June 17, 2022: Jones again reiterates that he is not considering firing McCarthy to hire Payton despite speculation
- September 18, 2022: on the first day of the regular season, McCarthy is listed with the second best odds to be the first head coach fired during the year
That’s a long, long list of offseason developments, and it doesn’t even cover everything, but the point is that nobody was expecting much out of the Cowboys. Worse than that is nearly everyone considered McCarthy to be a dead man walking.
Then the season started, and the Cowboys got ripped apart by the Buccaneers on prime time and lost Dak Prescott for what would end up being five weeks. McCarthy jumped to the top of the odds to be fired, and Cowboys fans started talking about the draft.
None of that mattered in the locker room, though. Cooper Rush played decent football and the Cowboys rattled off four straight wins - two of them against divisional foes and the other two against the teams that were in the Super Bowl last year - before dropping one to the undefeated Eagles on the road.
Then Prescott returned. The Cowboys had survived to that point on the strength of an elite defense and special teams, while the offense simply did their best to not give things away. Prescott’s return changed things, though. He got off to a slow start against Detroit, but regained his form at halftime. Since then, the Cowboys have scored touchdowns on nine of their 14 offensive possessions, not including possessions that ended with kneel downs.
Suddenly, the Cowboys look like a team that could make some real noise. There are obviously a lot of factors that go into that, but McCarthy deserves plenty of credit for not only weathering the storm from the offseason but handling the loss of his franchise quarterback in Week 1.
Since he arrived in Dallas, McCarthy has talked up the importance of complementary football. Last year, the defense was in a transitional period with a new coordinator and a handful of new players in prominent roles, so the Cowboys featured a high-powered offense that forced opposing teams to take bigger risks in order to keep up. It worked, as the Cowboys led the league in takeaways despite giving up 5.5 yards per play, tied for 11th most in the league.
This year, the defense has taken a huge step forward. They’re not generating as many takeaways (they’re tied for sixth most) but Dallas has also gotten the yards per play number down to 4.8; only three other teams have lower figures. For a while, that complemented an offense that was struggling to move the ball consistently.
Now that Prescott is back and seemingly getting his groove back, that’s no longer the case. The defense didn’t have its best day against the Bears but they still made stops when they needed to. More importantly, though, the Cowboys’ body of work this year has suggested they’re much better than this one game.
Put all of this together and you’ve got a team that’s on the verge of being a complete juggernaut: capable of scoring touchdowns every drive, sacking you on third and long, and - oh, by the way - blocking a punt here or taking a kick to the house there. And because of the way McCarthy’s team survived without Prescott, they’re still in good shape to finish with a great record.
In fact, of the Cowboys’ remaining nine games this year, only four of them are against teams with a winning record. One of those teams (the Giants) already lost to the Cowboys while another (the Eagles) came dangerously close to blowing a huge lead against the Cowboys even with Rush in at quarterback; both of those matchups will be in Dallas.
Right now, the Cowboys are focused on resting up before they enter the final stretch of the season. But it’s hard not to be excited about their chances based on what we’ve seen all year, and especially since the quarterback returned. McCarthy has guided this team to a perfect spot at this point in the season. Now, he just has to capitalize on the opportunity.