The Dallas Cowboys smoked the New England Patriots 38-3 and it has us feeling pretty darn good. The defense looked remarkable and the offense moved the ball well. They looked more like the team we saw in the first two weeks than that hot mess we saw in Arizona.
Is this team really this good or are we being taken for a ride again? Here’s what we learned after taking a second look at the game film.
What is going on in the red zone?
If the Cowboys were around league-average in the red zone (56%), then people would be talking about how remarkable this team is, but they’re not. In reality, they sit at 37% which is the third worst in the NFL. They can drive down the field with the best of them, but for some reason when they get ready to score, they clam up and completely drop the ball, figuratively, and sometimes literally.
Why do they struggle in this area? Last week, we could point to all kinds of problems finding open receivers and the inability to power it in when they were at the goal line. Looking at the tape this week, there isn’t any one thing that they are doing wrong, but rather a continuous streak of just not being able to execute when it matters. Sometimes it’s a dropped pass and other times it’s a missed blocking assignment. And then there are those occasional “shaking our head” moments when they look like something out of Keystone Cops.
The good news is many of these problems are correctable. Better execution awaits. The bad news is this team struggles when the field condenses and until they can show us they can overcome it, this will continue to be a concern.
There are a lot of different reasons why the Cowboys are sputtering in the red zone. Let's count thy ways.— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 3, 2023
1. Schoony drop, should've been a TD
2. A little too high for CeeDee, should've been a TD
3. A read option with no options
4. Running into each other
5. Forgetting to block pic.twitter.com/aJSzF6y9Yk
Jake Ferguson just keeps getting better
Last season, the fourth-round tight had a promising, but modest rookie season. He only caught 19 passes for 174 yards, playing 40% of the offensive snaps in the TE2 role behind Dalton Schultz.
Schultz is now gone and Ferguson’s reps have increased by more than 50%. He already has more targets than he had all of last year. His 17 catches so far have resulted in eight first downs, which matches his season total from a year ago. It’s clear that he has earned Dak Prescott’s trust as he continues to transform into a reliable fixture in this offense.
Jake Ferguson in year two looks like Dalton Schultz in year three. It's not sexy, but it's extremely effective. Good catch radius, nice concentration, and some tough running after the catch. He's developing quite well. pic.twitter.com/8tQhxGxY71— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 3, 2023
Jalen Tolbert contributing more and more
Speaking of development, all the positive talk we heard in training camp appears to track as the second-year receiver continues to show why the coaches love him so much. Entering Sunday, Tolbert only had three catches for 18 yards and they all came in Week 2 against the Jets. Against the Patriots, Tolbert strung together the best game of his young career catching four balls for 53 yards. And he even wowed the crowd with a nice tackle on punt coverage.
Very nice growth this year from Jalen Tolbert. Sunday was his best game so far. He was sharp out of his breaks, had soft hands, and who knew he could show up and make plays on special teams. pic.twitter.com/qFVKFhoKFI— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 3, 2023
Terence Steele just isn’t himself
It’s only four weeks into the season and already the offensive line has experienced all kinds of turmoil. Four of their starters have all missed action so far with the lone survivor being Terence Steele. That’s particularly weird considering he was a guy we were all worried about in terms of health due to coming back from a knee injury suffered last year.
While Steele has been available, he still doesn’t seem quite right. His movement has been a little stiff and he can be seen getting beat on plays here and there. He does have his moments when he moves guys in the running game, but he’s still not the guy we grew to love last season. He’ll get there, but this is somewhat expected.
I'm the senior vice president of the Terence Steele fan club, so it's hard for me to say this, but he's been a bit off so far this season. His footwork is choppy in pass pro & he's slow to his spots in run blocking. I didn't expect him to be his old self this early, and he's not. pic.twitter.com/xWDNQeVxuP— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 3, 2023
DaRon Bland might be the real deal
Not having Trevon Diggs is really unfortunate and not an easy thing to overcome. The team is asking their second-year corner to cover the outside in his absence. Bland had a great rookie season, but he’s a better slot corner than he is on the outside. Can he play well enough to keep things in check on the outside?
Well, early reviews are in and they are positive because Bland is starting to figure things out. There are times when he gives up a little too much cushion or doesn’t get his head turned around in time, but he’s getting better. And when he does get himself turned around and plays downhill, look out! Bland is a super quick closer and it’s not sheer luck that he’s been one of the top ball-hawking corners since entering the NFL.
ABC - Always Be Closing— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 3, 2023
DaRon Bland has great closing speed and it's showing up more and more. I love how teams are now going to have to start thinking twice before looking his way. pic.twitter.com/YYIfM7NAwD
We had a Neville Gallimore sighting
Many of us (raises hand) weren’t so sure Gallimore would make the opening-day roster, but he did and Dan Quinn continues to use him. He’s not playing a lot of snaps (35%), but it's a good chunk considering how deep this Cowboys defensive line is. On Sunday, he was right in the middle of things and came up with a couple of tackles for a loss. This is a contract year for Gallimore and it’s nice to see him making plays for this defense. If he keeps this up, it will be a win-win for both sides.
Neville Gallimore is still on the Cowboys roster in case you had forgotten. He looked good on Sunday. He was quick off the snap, showed strong torque, and muscled his way into the backfield for a couple of nice tackles for a loss. pic.twitter.com/PQD7uwkmHz— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 3, 2023
Cowboys have the league’s best kicker
The Cowboys' special teams have been fantastic so far with blocks, fakes, and all kinds of razzamatazz. They’ve been all over the place.
But one thing you can set your watch to is the incredible consistency of their rookie kicker Brandon Aubrey. He’s made all 13 of his field goal attempts so far. Statistically speaking, he’s tops in the league. He did have that first kick shankopotomus on an extra point, but hey, everyone deserves a mulligan. He’s been money ever since. And it’s not just that he’s making his kicks, he’s been nailing them right down the middle.
There is only one kicker so far who has more than 10 field goal attempts and is a perfect 100%.— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 2, 2023
That kicker is Brandon Aubrey.
It's not just that he's a perfect 13/13 on the year, but his kicks have been right down the middle. This guy is dialed in. pic.twitter.com/My2KpM1tXS