Before a single game was played this year, many observers saw the AFC South trifecta in December as possibly the easiest three-game sequence the Dallas Cowboys faced. They are certainly off to a good start proving that forecast might be correct. No matter how hard you look at the flaws of the first of the three played last Sunday, 54 points is going to have you feeling some confidence, and likely more than a bit of attitude.
Well, as was once said on the Millenium Falcon, don’t get cocky. The Indianapolis Colts game had the look of a large deviation from the norm rather than a defining game. Of course, the next two against the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars will bring things back to earth.
Or not. Both those teams, especially the Texans, should be even less of a challenge than the Colts. So what would three dominant games in a row against outmatched competitors tell us about the Cowboys? And what if they have a lot more trouble the next two weeks than we expect?
We discussed this overall idea and more on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
A loss or tie in either of those two games would cast a huge amount of doubt over the team. It’s another trap situation. The last game before the Philadelphia Eagles come calling also has Trevor Lawrence playing quarterback. He has not had spectacular numbers, but is looking more like at least a competent to good QB. There is also the hope (for his team) that he is going to start looking like what so many expected for the former number one draft pick. We all know the history of Dallas. Opposing players just play out of their heads.
Still, one of these next two surprising the Cowboys with a strong game seems very improbable. The spread this week is reaching three score territory. Dallas should steamroll both these teams.
The one problem for Dallas is that there is not much you learn about a team in those wins. Their first big blowout of the season was against the Chicago Bears, and in many ways it was exactly the kind of game you want the Cowboys to play from start to finish. They then upped the ante with a 40-burger against the Minnesota Vikings that was almost as flawless. It was even a road game in a notoriously loud venue.
You cannot say that about the Colts win. The first three quarters saw Indianapolis hanging tough with Dallas. It was not until a series of takeaways created an avalanche of points that they really dominated. It was a little over 15 minutes of almost flawless football grafted onto nearly three-quarters of an hour of mediocrity.
That means there is more to examine than the final score for these next two games. This scoring distribution is one. A Vikings style win is definitely a better sign. Sudden bursts of easy points is more a random thing. Indianapolis visibly seemed to cave after the string of turnovers started that would lead to a big gap in the score.
Another factor is the way Kellen Moore called the game against the Colts. He relied heavily on the run, with Dallas running it 34 times versus 30 passes thrown. There apparently was more than one reason for this. The run was working much better, with the Cowboys gaining an average of 6.5 yards per run while only netting 5.3 on average when they threw it. Moore seems to be doing a good job of how he splits the workload between Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard which also makes it more effective. Two drives started inside the Indianapolis 30. And as the lead ballooned, there was no reason to throw it much as they wanted the clock to run down. Prescott also had three short touchdown passes. so the passing game wound up being more about efficiency than gross yards gained. This was perfect for the Colts, but it is hardly a guaranteed blueprint for when they face the Philadelphia Eagles in three games. Jalen Hurts is far more dangerous than Matt Ryan and Philly is playing very good ball on both sides of the line.
It would not be bad to see Prescott have a big day or two throwing the ball before then. At the least he needs to push the ball deeper some to hone that part of the offensive toolkit. It can be crucial not only for that phase, but it helps thin out the box for the running backs. One side effect of having the quarterback challenge the coverage is that there will be turnovers. Prescott seems to get picked every game, although all come in the first half so far. We might as well be ready for that to keep happening if we want something besides short throws.
The defense was the best part of the Cowboys against the Colts. They held them to a respectable 309 yards of total offense, almost all in the first three quarters. But most of the impact came from those five takeaways, and those are notoriously hard to duplicate from game to game. Just like the offense, they may need a game where they just throttle the offense. And shutting down Lawrence might be a good thing to see. He has some attributes that are similar to Hurts. He unfortunately is playing with a far less talented team around him, which is not helping his career. That is not Dallas’ problem. They need to use that game to help get ready for the Eagles.
One important thing is to see how DaRon Bland and Kelvin Joseph hold up at cornerback. Against Indy, they were more than up to the task, especially Bland with his two picks. That is crucial going forward after the injuries to Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown. Another key is to keep the run game bottled up. That is something they must do when the team with the best record in football comes to town.
One good thing that would be good to see is how they can still stifle an offense even without Micah Parsons having a great stat line. They got three sacks without him being in on any.
But that leaves the original problem. It is hard to envision either the Texans or the Jaguars as much of a measuring stick for a team with big aspirations. The 54-point extravaganza last Sunday was just as much a statement about the overall talent disparity on the field. That is one that is going to hold true for two more games before ramming into a roster that is at least on a par with their own. While they must not get overconfident and let either team hang around, they should be looking to keep making statements. They now have the biggest overall margin of victory of any team. That is one of the most predictive stats for continued success. This is an opportunity to build that lead. Then the Philadelphia game will be the true test of how they can sustain good play.
It doesn’t matter what the previous scores were, however. Each game is a test of the persistence and work of the team. It depends on good coaching. In that latter, the most encouraging thing from the Indianapolis game was the big reduction in penalties. It seems that emphasis on things like too many men in motion, false starts, and holding really took effect. It is very much an unanswered question if that too was an anomaly for the team. Getting in the habit of not drawing flags is one they badly need.
We will see how it all goes in a couple of noon kicks before the national broadcast on Christmas Eve. And we’ll be back to try and figure out what it all means.