It is really hard to imagine how there could still be any debate about the Dallas Cowboys being a very good team. After they took down the Philadelphia Eagles last week, there is a very solid case to be made that they are at worst the second best team in the NFC. Whether they can stand up to the one franchise in the conference that is seen as better, the San Francisco 49ers, remains to be determined. It does look likely that will be decided at some point in the playoffs.
While Mike McCarthy and his entire staff deserve a lot of credit for where this team is, the standings are always determined by how things go on the field. That is about talent, intelligence, and determination. This year’s Cowboys have all that, in pretty big quantities. The Dallas rosters of the early 1990s were seen as some of the best of all time, loaded with All Pros and future Hall of Fame members, and having almost no weak spots. This year’s edition of the team looks a bit like that.
The picture I used for this article is a very simple illustration of just how much talent resides on the roster. If you look at the conversations for both league MVP and DPOY, Dak Prescott and DaRon Bland are among the most mentioned names.
Prescott has actually overcome a couple of shaky performances early in the season to hit his stride when it matters the most. Now he leads the league in touchdown passes, and if you put any faith in things like quarterback ratings, he is right there with Brock Purdy and sits a little bit ahead of Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes. Slice it any way you want, that is a list of some of the elite quarterbacks in the league. Given that the running game has been inconsistent for the Cowboys, their offensive success is dependent on Prescott’s arm, mobility, and intelligence. All have been outstanding, especially since that 49ers loss.
Of course, as the Kansas City Chiefs may be finding out, having a great passer is not enough if you don’t make sure he has some very good targets. The big name for Dallas is obviously CeeDee Lamb, currently fourth in the league in yards per game with a 94.6 average and sitting fifth in touchdown receptions. While he has been the big gun all season, Prescott has an emerging star at tight end as well. Jake Ferguson is now eighth in yards per game at the position and tied for fourth in touchdown catches. Just as his quarterback has done, Ferguson is just getting better as the season progresses. His yards after the catch has been impressive over the past few games, exemplified by his performance versus the Eagles. He accumulated 51 of his 72 yards after hauling the ball in. He will run through or hurdle over defenders.
Further, the rest of the receiving corps is becoming more important. Brandin Cooks is particularly effective getting to the end zone, tied for 25th in the league in touchdowns, along with Ferguson and a bunch of others. And it was exciting to see Michael Gallup have a strong night on Sunday. If he is indeed finally getting back to his old self, the issues for defenses just get bigger.
Let’s not forget the offensive line in all this. Tyler Smith is now challenging Zack Martin as the best guard on the team. Tyler Biadasz and Terence Steele are less consistent, but one of the most pleasant surprises of the year is that Tyron Smith is once again playing at an extremely high level, giving up almost no pressures. The line is also at times very good at run blocking, even if the ground game is more serviceable than great.
On defense, Bland has of course set the all-time record for pick-sixes in a season, which he reached in just twelve games, and has four more opportunities to build on that. Stephon Gilmore is proving to be one of the best trade values in the league, keeping A.J. Brown from hurting his team against Philadelphia. Micah Parsons is one of the best (and most held) pass rushers in the league, while DeMarcus Lawrence is constantly harassing quarterbacks while being one of the best run-stopping defensive ends in the league. On the inside of the defensive line, Osa Odighizuwa is having his best season.
The linebacking corps is thin for the Cowboys, but in Dan Quinn’s defense, they are holding up very well. From front to back, this group just gets the job done. It is interesting to note that you have to go all the way to 50 to find a Cowboy on the cumulative tackles list. That is Damone Clark, which not only illustrates what a great acquisition he was, but how the entire defense closes on the ball to get stops. Remember, they lost Trevon Diggs in camp and Leighton Vander Esch midseason, and have hardly missed a beat.
On special teams, Dallas may well have the best field goal kicker in the league in Brandon Aubrey, who still has not missed and mostly hits everything right down the middle no matter how far he has to kick it. He already has the NFL record for most consecutive field goals to start a career, and now has added the record for being the only kicker to hit two from 59+ in a single game.
This is clearly one of the most talented rosters in the league, and it has so far been blessed with amazing health this deep into the season. Knock on wood with me, and let’s hope Johnathan Hankins is back soon from his ankle sprain on Sunday. But health can be a key determinant in how far a team can go.
The Cowboys are still in a real dogfight for playoff seeding. They may be forced to go on the road in the postseason. But they have the talent to make a run no matter how things shake out. And they also have the attitude they need. They still face some tough challenges, starting with a Buffalo Bills team who are fighting for a spot in the AFC playoffs in their house
With this group, Dallas has no excuses.