The Dallas Cowboys have gone through the first stretch of their 2023 season. The NFL’s addition of one more game at the end of the year has made it tricky to break up the season into quarters. I’m not a mathematician, so for argument’s sake, the first five games end the first quarter of play. It’s been a roller coaster of a season, filled with ups and downs. After their 42-10 loss in San Francisco, the coaster is definitely in a valley period.
Before the season started, many people predicted a starting record of 3-2 through the first five games, so the Cowboys are right on schedule.
Here are five of the biggest takeaways from the first part of the Cowboys season.
Week 1: Dallas Cowboys @ New York Giants (40-0)
Takeaway: The Dallas Cowboys defense could be special in 2023
On a miserable night in the Meadowlands, the Cowboys made sure all of America knew they would be a force to be reckoned with in the NFC. It all started with the Cowboys scoring on a blocked field goal attempt for a touchdown. From that point on, Dallas was in the driver's seat. By halftime, Mike McCarthy had a 26-0 lead against their divisional opponent after the offense moved up and down the field for a touchdown drive ending in a Tony Pollard touchdown.
The most impressive part of the win over the Giants was the ferocious pass rush that kept getting pressure on Daniel Jones. Dallas’ defense had 37 pressures as a team and nine separate players with two or more pressures. There was nothing the Giants could do on offense that made it an easy night for Dak Prescott and his unit, considering the favorable field position they were getting.
An absolute beatdown of a division rival started the season on a high note with high expectations.
Week 2: Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Jets (30-10)
Takeaway: The first complete win as a team
The Jets came into AT&T Stadium hoping to ride the momentum of a miraculous victory on Monday Night Football, but the Cowboys had other plans. Just like the week prior, the defense stopped any offensive game plan the Jets had for Zach Wilson.
The one area Dallas was looking to improve on from 2022 was their run defense, and this game showcased was undoubtedly a bright spot. The Cowboys’ defense held the entire Jets offense to 64 rushing yards, with Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook combining for 16 yards.
On offense, Dak Prescott was able to show he couldn’t be rattled by one of the top defenses in the NFL. Prescott had the best numbers out of all the quarterbacks that have played the Jets this season, throwing for 255 yards and two touchdowns.
Overall, it was a highlight of the season for the Cowboys, cruising to a 2-0 record. Then came Week 3...
Week 3: Dallas Cowboys @ Arizona Cardinals (28-16)
Takeaway: Is this a sign of things to come for Dallas?
Nothing seemed to go right for the Cowboys in Arizona after quarterback Josh Dobbs ripped off a 29-yard keeper to the outside on the second play of the game. Dallas’ inability to defend the run would be a common theme for the day. For a unit that had yet to give up significant gains on the ground, the Dallas defense allowed James Connor to rush for 98 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown. Not to mention, Cardinals receiver Rondale Moore took a routine handoff up the middle, nearly untouched for a 45-yard touchdown.
By halftime, the Dallas offense scored just ten points on four possessions and was down 21-10. There didn’t seem to be any urgency on offense to quickly score after Arizona would go down and put points on the board. In McCarthy’s defense, he owned up after the game that he limited his playbook since he was missing three starting offensive linemen. Even though the offense struggled, the defense is supposed to be the strength of this team, and allowing a first-half franchise record of 180 rushing yards is not the way to flex your muscles.
Coming off the heels of the season-ending injury to Trevon Diggs in practice, it was a humbling loss for Dallas and make no mistake—when it comes to playoff positioning, this will loom large for Dallas.
Week 4: Dallas Cowboys vs. New England Patriots (38-3)
Takeaway: Dallas gets back on track against Bill Belichick
A Cowboys team looking to be taken seriously as a contender in the NFL needs to beat up on the terrible teams. That’s precisely what they did against the New England Patriots. Outside of the opening drive for the Patriots, which is becoming a common theme for the Dallas defense, they could not do anything for the rest of the day on offense. Even when the red zone struggles continued for Prescott and Co., the Dallas defense bailed them out with a pair of touchdowns to make it 28-3 by halftime.
DaRon Bland was able to step into the spotlight in the absence of Trevon Diggs, taking the ball away twice and returning one for a touchdown. It helped build confidence knowing the cornerbacks could still take the ball away without Diggs in the lineup.
After surrendering over 200 yards on the ground to the Cardinals, the Cowboys’ run defense fought back, held New England to 53 rushing yards, and showed it might have been a one-time fluke in Arizona. The glaring need coming out of the game was the inability to score in the red zone with miscommunication and poor play design. Going one of four in scoring opportunities won’t help win many games.
Week 5: Dallas Cowboys @ San Francisco 49ers (42-10)
Takeaway: Will the Cowboys ever compete with the best-of-the-best in the league?
This was by no means a playoff game or one to end the Cowboys season, but it showed they can’t get past the 49ers no matter how hard they try. Granted, this might be the best roster San Francisco has had under Kyle Shanahan, but that’s no excuse not to make it a closer ball game. From start to finish, the Cowboys were not the better team on the field. When the 49ers were on their way off the field, the Dallas defense would make a costly penalty, extending their drive, ending in either points or less time on the clock.
Before this game, the Cowboys beat up the Giants, Jets, and Patriots—two teams who are the worst in the NFL and one (Jets) with a less-than-average offense. So when it comes to seeing if they can hang with a competitive team that could be in the way to another Super Bowl, Dallas wasn’t even close to being equal. Brock Purdy was made out to be an MVP player, and Fred Warner continued his terror against Prescott. The only positive was Brandon Aubrey, who continues to be perfect on the season after nailing a 50-yard attempt.
There’s no excuse for a performance like this, but at least there’s a lot more season left for the Cowboys to prove their doubters wrong and against some excellent teams. It might take a strong run against Philadelphia, Buffalo, Miami, Detroit, and Los Angeles for people to believe again, but that’s the corner Dallas painted themselves in—take this chance to show up and show out.