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3 takeaways from the Cowboys' upset victory: The committee defensive line approach is working

What did we learn in Dallas’ last-second win over the Cincinnati Bengals?

Cincinnati Bengals v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Cooper Rush is the master of surprise. While most fans assumed that the 2021 win over the Vikings on Halloween night was an outlier, Rush delivered again. This time it was against the reigning AFC champions. It wasn’t the prettiest victory, but Dallas is now 1-0 without their QB1 at the helm.

Through two weeks, it is difficult to predict what the 2022 Cowboys will bring on a week-to-week basis. It is difficult, but not impossible. So, here are three things that fans can take away from the 20-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

3 takeaways from the Cowboys' upset victory

Dan Quinn knows how to use his defensive line rotation

One of Dallas’ most controversial offseason moves was the decision not to re-sign Randy Gregory. More accurately, the decision not to beat Denver’s offer. The Cowboys instead chose a committee approach to the defensive end position opposite Demarcus Lawrence.

And that approach is working. Through two weeks, the Cowboys possess the third-best pass rushing unit in the league, according to PFF. This is obviously highlighted by the 13 pressures, four sacks, five QB hurries, and 25.4% pass rush win rate posted by Micah Parsons in two games.

But other pass rushers have stepped up as well. Dorance Armstrong and Dante Fowler have combined for the same amount of pass-rushing snaps as Parsons. They have collectively put up eight pressures, three sacks, five hurries, and an average win rate of 17.8%. Fowler specifically is the seventh-best defender in the league by PFF pass-rushing grade so far.

Out of fairness, Demarcus Lawrence has still not pressured the QB this season. He is the best run-stopping defender on the line, but that pass-rushing production will have to increase soon.

Unfortunatelty, the Cowboys don't get the honor of going up against the Bengals front five every week, so Sunday was likely an outlier against a horrible offensive line. But if Armstrong and Fowler can manage to put up 75% of what they did against Cincinnati moving forward, the defensive line will continue to anchor this defense.

80% of the Cowboys' offensive line is actually doing fairly well

In week one, the offensive line played like a unit that was inexperienced and young, which they are. But just one week later and the chemistry along the line is starting to become noticeable. They played well against a decent Bengals defensive line.

Well, for the most part they were solid. Here is the breakdown of the individual performances in week two:

  • Tyler Biadasz, Zack Martin, Terence Steele, and Tyler Smith combined: Three QB pressures allowed, one QB hit, one QB hurry, zero sacks, and an average PFF pass-blocking grade of 77.6.
  • Matt Farniok: Six QB pressures allowed, four QB hits, two QB hurries, zero sacks, and a PFF pass-blocking grade of 23.5.

This is not to say that Farniok needs to be replaced immediately. Week two was his first NFL start, and he will continue to grow. But if a veteran such as McGovern was starting on Sunday, the offensive line might have posted a near-perfect game. There is significantly less cause for concern about the Dallas front five than there was a week ago.

With the tenth-best pass blocking unit in the league according to PFF through two weeks, the Cowboys' offensive line has exceeded expectations. And there is something to be said for letting a young front five develop and work together. Of the four offensive linemen that have started both weeks, Tyler Biadasz was the only one not to improve both their pass-blocking and run-blocking grade from week one to week two.

With Jason Peters possibly coming in soon, Connor McGovern eventually returning from his high-ankle sprain, and more time for the line to work together, there is reason to be optimistic about the front five. Not optimistic in the sense that they will be the best in the league, but they are likely not going to be the ones that hold this team back all season. And that is a minor victory.

Cooper Rush is the same quarterback from a year ago

Cooper Rush is an enigma. While few would argue he is a starter-quality quarterback, he now boasts a 2-0 record as the QB1. However, there seems to be a growing sentiment that Rush looked significantly improved during his most recent start compared to last season.

While he hasn’t regressed, there is little room to make an argument that he has improved. In fact, let’s briefly look at his final statlines across his two starts:

  • 2021 against the Minnesota Vikings: 60% completion percentage, 325 passing yards, 8.1 yards per attempt, two big-time throws, four turnover-worthy plays, a 9.9 average depth of target, and a 92.2 passer rating
  • 2022 against the Cincinnati Bengals: 61% completion percentage, 235 yards, 7.6 average depth of target, zero big-time throws, two turnover-worthy plays, a 6.4 average depth of target, and a 95.5 passer rating

The only notable difference is the fact that, against the Bengals, he finished with zero interceptions, but last year he was picked off once. Outside of that, the two games were nearly identical. The result is that, in 2021, Rush finished week eight as the 29th highest graded QB out of the 35 who qualified. And against the Bengals, he was the 23rd ranked QB out of the 29 who qualified.

Now, this is not an attempt to dispairage the backup quarterback. He once again posted a big win against a team who most assumed would wipe the floor with Dallas. However, to assume that Rush has significantly improved from last season, or that he was the main reason Dallas won this week, would be incorrect. But just keep winning, Mr. Rush.

The Cowboys enter week three with a blowout loss and an upset victory under their belt. Regardless of how it happened, they are a .500 team and should be getting reinforcements soon with Michael Gallup, Jayron Kearse and eventually Dak Prescott. For right now, expect the unexpected with the 2022 Dallas Cowboys.

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