The Dallas Cowboys avoided an 0-2 start and certain death by narrowly escaping their two-game home stand with a nail-biting 20-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. This was their fifth straight win over the Bengals, and you’d have to go all the way back to 2004 to see the last time the Cowboys lost a game to Cincinnati.
That streak came close to ending on Sunday when it looked like the Bengals might pull off the comeback, but thankfully the defense came up big when it mattered and backup quarterback Cooper Rush was good enough to get the job done.
Now that the feeling of victory has sunk in, let’s take a moment to savor how well the Cowboys played by seeing what we can learn after further review.
THE FRONT FOUR WAS DOMINANT
It’s really incredible to see this group of defensive linemen play so well. After Randy Gregory left in free agency, some wondered if the Cowboys left too big of a hole at right defensive end. Early reports indicate that they did not. The front office’s response was to retain Dorance Armstrong and sign free agent Dante Fowler. And let’s not forget the fact that the team already has one of the best pass rushers in the game with Micah Parsons.
It shouldn’t be lost that the Bengals' offensive line is a weak spot for their team, but the Cowboys attacked them repeatedly without blitzing. They stopped Cincy’s offense by only rushing four and sitting back with seven defenders in coverage. And four was all they needed as Parsons, Armstrong, and Fowler constantly made things miserable for Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow. Those three combined for a total of five sacks with Leighton Vander Esch adding another one for good measure. You know how awesome Parsons was, but let’s remind ourselves how great some of the lesser-known guys were on Sunday.
Dante Fowler was disruptive on Sunday against the Bengals. What a great low-cost free agent signing to add to the Cowboys' pass-rushing arsenal. pic.twitter.com/uhyIRtsrE5— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) September 19, 2022
Dorance Armstrong used his length, strength, and relentless pursuit to cause problems for the Bengals' offensive line on Sunday. A very nice two-sack performance by the Cowboys' 25-year-old edge rusher. pic.twitter.com/yZMqSAs2iy— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) September 19, 2022
SHUTTING DOWN THE PASSING GAME
The Bengals have arguably one of the best wide receiver trios in the NFL with Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd. They all have had at least one 1,000-yard season in their career. And with Burrow coming off a season where he threw for over 4,600 yards, you had to figure stopping the Bengals receivers would be a tall order.
The Cowboys' secondary was up to the task. Granted, it helped sitting so many players in coverage to narrow the throwing windows for Burrow, but the Cowboys' corners did a great job staying with their assignments. Cincinnati's high-powered offense never had a play of 20 yards on Sunday as the Cowboys' defense kept everything in front of them.
The defensive line did most of the heavy lifting, but we're not talking enough about what a great job the Cowboys cornerbacks did against one of the best WR trios in the league. They didn't give up any big plays. Trevon Diggs and Anthony Brown played really well. pic.twitter.com/zzTWMquSBV— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) September 19, 2022
That look you make when your quarterback is held to less than 200 yards passing despite facing a cornerback who is not too much on technique-sound. pic.twitter.com/UFBEuyESEH— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) September 18, 2022
It should be noted that this was an all-around collective effort from this Cowboys defense. The defensive line provided the pressure and the secondary wouldn’t let anything get behind them. To mitigate this, the Bengals started attacking with shorter stuff trying to take advantage of the Cowboys' over-pursuing defensive line and zone coverage secondary.
But the Bengals still couldn’t gain much ground thanks to outstanding tackling in the open field. The duo of two-million-dollar linebackers, Leighton Vander Esch and Anthony Barr, were making plays as well as backup safety Donovan Wilson, who did a great job filling in for Jayron Kearse. And we can’t gloss over the multiple times DeMarcus Lawrence made a lunging shoe-string tackle as the ball carrier tried to escape past the line of scrimmage.
The Cowboys' defense did a great job of limiting the yards of the Bengals' offense by high-effort swarming and great fundamental tackling.
And finally, the tackling from the Cowboys' defense was nearly flawless on Sunday. They took great angles, did a good job shedding blocks, and were very physical. Just a great job all the way around. pic.twitter.com/NncK0XyAfW— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) September 19, 2022
The Buccaneers had the second-most points scored last season and the Bengals were seventh. The Cowboys have played their two top-scoring opponents from last year and their defense currently sits at ninth in points allowed and sixth in yards given up. That’s a pretty good start for the defense.
RUSH HOUR TWO
Last week’s game left a really sour taste in the mouth of Cowboys fans as the offense never once made it into the red zone. And with starter Dak Prescott going down late in the game, things went from bad to worse.
Fortunately for Dallas, Cooper Rush had a solid performance and is now 2-0 as the Cowboys starter. That’s promising. While the win resonates loudly with fans, it should be noted that Rush played very much like a backup. It was a good performance mind you, but there were some bad things too. Rush is lucky that a few of his off-target throws didn’t end up in the hands of Bengals’ defenders.
But there were also good things. Rush was very decisive with his throws. He didn’t hold the ball too long and processed the field well. He was very good when his first read was open and he delivered the ball in the perfect location several times. He didn’t get rattled in third-down (or fourth-down) situations and he stood in the pocket and made his throws even when pressure was coming. All in all, it was a very solid performance from Rush, which is all you can ask for from a backup quarterback. This should make fans feel better about the team’s chances to weather the storm while Prescott is unavailable.
Cooper Rush wasn't perfect by any means, but he had a lot of nice throws. He was decisive, had good footwork, and put the ball in good spots. Rush was also clutch on some money-downs. Very solid performance by the Cowboys' backup QB. pic.twitter.com/YRPpSNsuuk— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) September 19, 2022
Cooper Rush was also very good throwing on the run. Again, very decisive, and doesn't lollygag and wait for those throwing lanes to close up. pic.twitter.com/53P5YJIgMR— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) September 19, 2022