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Cowboys point/counterpoint: We need to apologize

We were wrong about so many.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys
He gets one.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Immediately after their opening loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, there were many assuming that was it for the Dallas Cowboys. Dak Prescott was out and the team had looked lost on offense. Penalties were still a major issue as well. We knew that this was not a franchise that could respond effectively to that level of adversity.

Boy, were we wrong. It has just been two games since then, but this team has not just responded, it has overcome. This week, our Tom Ryle and David Howman don’t debate. They just take turns offering some sincere apologies to those we disrespected three weeks ago.

Tom: I’ll start with the obvious one given my previous post here. I thought that having Dak out for even a short time would just make the departure of Mike McCarthy inevitable. I had little to no faith he could rise to the occasion and get this team to perform well under the circumstances, which included a whole lot of other questions beyond the backup QB situation.

Sometimes, being wrong is totally gratifying. One of McCarthy’s key roles with how the Cowboys do things is to get his team prepared each week. The past two games, they have come out fully ready to handle what they faced with the personnel on hand. That is just one thing. I also think he had a lot to do with getting Kellen Moore to focus on the right things. Like with everything, he has to keep it up to stick around another year, I believe. But this week’s game against the Washington Commanders looks like a great opportunity to do just that.

David: I couldn’t agree more on giving McCarthy his flowers. I’ve been one of his biggest supporters during his time in Dallas, but even I had the knives out after Week 1, perhaps justifiably so. He’s proven us all wrong, but someone else that I definitely owe an apology to is his right hand man, offensive line coach Joe Philbin.

I’ve not been as critical of Philbin as many others have, but I definitely had my doubts about this group’s direction under Philbin. The offensive line just never quite looked right last year, and the decision to move on from La’el Collins seemed like a bad one to me. But three games in and Collins has allowed more than double the amount of pressures in Cincinnati as Terence Steele has for Dallas.

I was also very skeptical about playing Jason Peters at guard this past week. I had been banging the Peters-to-Dallas drum for a while, but with the intent of playing him at left tackle, the one spot he’s been elite at for nearly his entire career. Then Peters goes out and has a darn near perfect game, albeit on a limited amount of snaps. It seems as if Philbin did, indeed, know what he was doing.

And that’s without even mentioning how Philbin has handled Tyler Smith...

Tom: Oh, nice setup, because you knew this one was coming. When the team drafted Tyler Smith, I was among many who had concerns because of his college pedigree and later wondered about the plan to play him at LG while thinking he was going to be the future at LT. Then the Tyron Smith injury happened and even more concern came about him having to go back to LT.

Well, the future is now, and after how he has played, holding up well in pass protection and sometimes just obliterating players run blocking, that future looks bright. Smith has handled the step to the pros and the moving between positions with aplomb and shown us what the scouting staff saw in him. At first, it looked like the team had gotten a potential long term answer for left tackle a year or two early even if we had some doubts about him. Now, it turns out to have been just in time. It looks like a second first-round home run in the draft in a row.

David: Tyler Smith, and really this whole offensive line, has made life much easier on the run game, which in turn has made things easier on Cooper Rush. And it’s in the spirit of that sentiment that my next apology goes to a conglomerate of whoever is in charge of coordinating the run game for these Cowboys. Kellen Moore obviously bears the most of that responsibility, but I could probably lump in McCarthy, Philbin, and running backs coach Skip Peete too.

The biggest thing I’m apologizing for here, though, is not believing them when they said they were committed to using Tony Pollard more. Frankly, I had good reasons to be skeptical, as we’ve heard that every offseason since Pollard was drafted. But give the Cowboys their credit, they’re actually doing it. In Week 1, Ezekiel Elliott had three more touches than Pollard; in Week 2, he led Pollard by three touches again; and against the Giants, it was the same difference, just three more touches.

It’s beyond wishful thinking to want Pollard to actually get more touches than Zeke for a variety of reasons, but we’re three games in and Dallas is utilizing these two running backs in a very balanced manner. They’ve been creative with them too, which is a step further than simply splitting their touches. Hopefully it continues, because the dynamic between these two is powering a really efficient rushing attack.

Tom: You are absolutely right with that one. Love to see the way they are splitting things between Zeke and Tony.

But for my next one, I have to offer apologies to Noah Brown. There was a lot of concern when it became apparent he might have to be WR2 until Michael Gallup gets back, especially with how slow Jalen Tolbert has been brought along. Well, all Brown has done is lead the team in receiving yards and yards per catch, and a lot of those grabs have been tough ones. He is claiming a role even after Gallup is back and it is a good thing for the team. Management is going to have a decision to make with free agency coming up for him after the season, and I am not apologizing for doubting how well they will handle that. In the meantime, just enjoy what Brown can do for you, and give him some richly deserved props.

David: Noah Brown has been great, and that reminds me of another Cowboys receiver that deserves an apology: CeeDee Lamb. While I’ve been a fan of his since he fell to the Cowboys in the draft, I’ve also been pretty vocal in the belief that Lamb has yet to live up to the hype. That became doubly true after an offseason in which Lamb was billed as the key cog in this passing attack. Then he gets overshadowed by Brown in two straight games and then he has those two really bad drops in the first half of Monday night’s game.

Frankly, I was ready to write a scathing piece about how he just isn’t ready to be the focal point of the offense. Then the second half happened, and Lamb shut me up before I even began to speak type. I’m still not ready to fully believe in Lamb as the guy this front office has hyped him up to be, but that second half proved that Lamb is more than capable of making up for his mistakes. If Lamb can play like that for a whole game, I’ll never question him again.

Tom: While we have been making personal apologies, I want to extend my last one on behalf of others. DeMarcus Lawrence has taken so much criticism from people, but those of us who look beyond stat lines always knew how much he contributed to the defense. Well, against the New York Giants, he had a big statistical performance to show just how good he is. This week, with Micah Parsons back to full health and Dorance Armstrong looking to stay in the sack leader race, this could be another big game, possibly for all three. Lawrence is a rock both against the pass and the run. He never deserved the criticism, and it is fun to see him silencing so many.

Those are just the highlights. There are other players who also merit some apologies, like Terence Steele, Brett Maher, and Donovan Wilson. Even (shudder) Stephen Jones might deserve a bit for how things are turning out. We will leave it here, but feel free to add any mea culpas you might have in the comments.

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