Where do the Dallas Cowboys go from here? That is the important question as they come out of the bye week with the Green Bay Packers up next. There is no way to predict the future. All we can do is try and make projections based on what has gone before.
Under normal circumstances, a 6-2 record is a very successful outcome for the first eight games of the season. At this point, Dallas is tied for third best in the entire NFL. No team in the AFC has more wins, and only the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings are ahead in the NFC conference. But this is actually a much more significant accomplishment for the Cowboys after they went 4-1 with Cooper Rush as quarterback. That is a testament to coaching and the superb performance of the defense and special teams to help the offense. It is quite logical to argue that they will do at least as well over the final nine games now that Dak Prescott is back behind center. That should lead to a 12 or 13 win season and a wild card berth at worst.
Bolstering that argument is that the defense, led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Micah Parsons, is one of the best and deepest units in years, even decades. The pass rush comes in waves, the secondary, while dealing with some injury concerns, keeps doing the job, and despite an inevitable regression to the mean from last year, they are once again one of the league leaders in turnover margin. There is no reason to think they will not continue to be outright scary to opponents.
Prescott himself is a huge reason things should go well during the last half of the season. His performance over the past six quarters of play has been outstanding. He is sharp and reading the field very well, with only an occasional miscue like the interception he threw late in the first half against the Chicago Bears. That was more about being overly aggressive at a time he was really feeling it, and that earns a level of forgiveness.
The best thing to come from that game was how well offensive coordinator Kellen Moore did his job. It was a masterful performance against a defense that was fairly competent before that game. If he can continue to exploit opponents that way down the stretch, this is a very dangerous team.
One thing that has been pointed out is that the level of competition has not exactly been intimidating. Yet, so far, the strength of schedule Dallas has faced is the sixth strongest in the NFC. And the remainder of the schedule is not at all scary. The next game is against a struggling Green Bay team that saw Aaron Rodgers throw three interceptions against the Detroit Lions. Rodgers is playing through a thumb injury and hardly looks like the world-beater he has so often been. The Cowboys do face their annual three games in twelve days stretch including the Thanksgiving Day game. But coming out of the bye should help them weather that.
Another piece of good news is how the running game really came alive against the Bears even without Ezekiel Elliott on the field. Tony Pollard was superb as the team kept marching to the end zone, capping off three of the drives with his own TDs. Don’t overlook how Prescott used his legs to score the first touchdown. That threat just complicates things for opposing defenses.
One of the bigger surprises of the season has been how well the offensive line has held up. Tyler Biadasz is the unsung hero, having his best year since joining the team. Zack Martin continues to be Zack freaking Martin, Terence Steele has manned right tackle well, Tyler Smith is doing admirably for a rookie forced to switch positions late in camp, and so far the Connor McGovern/Jason Peters situation at left guard keeps working out. Now it looks like the return of Tyron Smith is growing closer. That will leave the team with some decisions to make about what to do with him, but with his pedigree, that is a good problem to have.
The one lingering problem is wide receiver. Rumors of interest in Odell Beckham Jr continue to swirl, but veteran fans know to take that with a slice of Stephen Jones’ coveted pie. If the expected outcome is that a deal for Beckham is too costly at the end of the day, the team has to figure out how to make things work with a suspect WR group. CeeDee Lamb has been solid but is the focus of defenses. Michael Gallup is still working his way back. The bye will hopefully get Noah Brown, another real surprise this year, back on the field. Outside them, the rest of the wide receivers have been non-factors. One way Moore has adjusted for that is using the surprisingly good trio of tight ends in Dalton Schultz, Jake Ferguson, and Peyton Hendershot. Schultz has been fighting his own injury, another reason the bye week was so welcome, but the two rookies have stepped up. The running game has helped greatly as well, keeping defenses from being able to focus on defending the pass. The WR situation is probably going to be a concern the rest of the way, but as we saw against Chicago, it is not necessarily insurmountable.
There is no question Dallas is on a good trajectory coming into the remainder of the season. If they can just keep things going in the right direction, the path to the playoffs is wide open, and with just a little help, overtaking the unbeaten Eagles for the NFC East crown and the number one seed in the playoffs is clearly within the realm of possibility.
At the beginning of the year, the annual hype for the team seemed very hollow. Then the Tyron Smith and Prescott injuries looked like fatal blows to any hopes. Instead, the team has done a remarkable job overcoming it all. There is reason for optimism. Playoff success has eluded this team for decades, but this time things look different. A wait and see attitude is still warranted, but a lot of things are pointing in the right direction.
It has been a surprisingly enjoyable season for Dallas fans. If things keep going as they have, the postseason may finally be as well.