The Dallas Cowboys handed Bill Belichick the most significant loss of his head coaching career. For that reason alone, every player and coach should receive immense credit.
Dallas looked like a refocused team that took their preparation seriously during the week for a tough offensive matchup. A few stars shined for the first time this season, while many of the names previously on the list continue to do more of the same—dominate.
Each week, the top six players from the game will be ranked.
Depending on how the Cowboys perform, there could be the same names or six different ones every week. It won’t be based on just the best players on the roster. This way, it gives players who might not be household names the ability to shine a light on their impact for the week.
Here are the top six players from Week 4.
6. Dante Fowler Jr., DE
Dante Fowler is like John Wick—a hired assassin who remains in the shadows until he’s called upon. A few games in 2022 were reminiscent of his performance on Sunday. Against the Cincinnati Bengals and Tennessee Titans, Fowler was generating a ton of pressure and getting to the quarterback when others around him struggled.
Fowler might have had the play of the day with his strip sack forcing a fumble that Leighton Vander Esch recovered for a touchdown. Fowler had a Pro Football Focus pass rush grade of 90.2, which was fifth among edge rushers for Week 4 (playing minimum 20 percent of the snaps).
Dante Fowler sack fumble, Leighton Vander Esch TD pic.twitter.com/Pe2wwm67mQ— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) October 1, 2023
If Micah Parsons or DeMarcus Lawrence miss any time during the season, Fowler has shown he could be counted on to rush the passer without a huge drop in production. That’s something the Cowboys will rely on as it gets closer to the end of the long season.
5. DeMarcus Lawrence, DE
Through four weeks of the NFL season, DeMarcus Lawrence continues to be one of the best defenders in the game. He currently sits as the No. 2 graded defensive player (92.6) in the NFL behind Nick Bosa.
Against the Patriots, Lawrence had four pressures and one tackle but was much more than what his box score shows. He’s a player whose presence has a ripple effect on every play.
Lawrence beat a guard on an inside twist move, which forced Mac Jones out of the pocket and threw an incomplete pass. Lawrence is controlled chaos, while Micah Parsons is pure chaos. It’s what makes them a great one-two defensive end combination.
4. Dak Prescott, QB
No better place to be for Dak Prescott than at No. 4. Just like DeMarcus Lawrence, Prescott isn’t winning any fantasy football championships with his stats. Still, he had an efficient performance against one of the NFL’s best defenses. Prescott completed 28 of 34 passes for 261 yards and one touchdown. His 108.5 passer rating is the best of any quarterback who’s played New England this year.
The West Coast offense has been a perfect marriage for No. 4. He’s been getting the ball out quicker and is highly decisive with his throws. The offseason emphasis on communication is undoubtedly working.
3. DaRon Bland, CB
Any argument could be made for DaRon Bland being higher, and there wouldn’t be any disagreement. Bland was playing like Trevon Diggs did against the Patriots in 2021.
His first interception for a pick-six was the final nail in New England’s coffin as they tried to score before halftime. It made the score 28-3 and became out of reach for the Patriots offense. Bland’s second interception showcased his quickness, instincts, and willingness to attack the ball. It could have been another touchdown if JuJu Smith-Schuster hadn’t tackled him.
Bland was graded out as PFF’s best defensive player for the Cowboys (91.5) in Week 4 and is starting to take a massive leap in his second season.
2. Micah Parsons, DE
Micah Parsons didn’t have a recorded sack, but he was still the most impactful pass rusher and disrupted many plays. On the Patriots’ opening drive, when they were in the red zone, Parsons had a free rush to Mac Jones. If he doesn’t get to Jones as quickly as he did, New England probably has a touchdown to Mike Gesicki in the end zone.
According to Next Gen Stats, Parsons generated nine pressures, his eighth consecutive game with five or more. That is the second longest streak in the NGS Era only to Steelers T.J. Watt Weeks 1-10 in 2020.
Talking about the silent stats that don’t show in a box score, Parsons has a positive rush rate of 75.2 percent, first in the NFL. The average around the league is 54 percent. Truly insane.
1. Tyler Smith, LG
When looking at the matchup against the Patriots, the Cowboys would lose the game if their defensive front succeeded against Dallas’ offensive line. Bland and Parsons had a fantastic game, and I don’t take that away from them at all. However, the wide receivers and the Patriots offensive line shouldn’t scare anyone.
Two minutes of Cowboys LG Tyler Smith (#73) putting on a showcase against the Patriots.— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) October 2, 2023
Another star offensive lineman in the making in Dallas. pic.twitter.com/iOMEpKqZny
Since returning from injury, Tyler Smith has been playing at an All-Pro level, especially after this game. Smith was graded by PFF as the best player, regardless of position, on the Cowboys team and the No. 1 graded offensive player in blocking across the entire league for Week 4.
He has the second-highest offensive blocking grade (93.1) for the entire year, regardless of position. When Prescott needed to make the throws that mattered, Smith was stonewalling defenders in front of him. Even when the offense needed to run the ball, Tony Pollard had four carries for 33 of his 47 yards running behind Smith.
He continues to impress, and Nate Tice of The Athletic Football Show said before the season he expects Tyler Smith to be a Pro Bowler this year. That might be too low of an expectation. An All-Pro nomination might be his floor for 2023.