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Cowboys point/counterpoint: Separating reality from hopefulness

It was amazing. But it was just one game.

NFL: Houston Texans at Dallas Cowboys
They are the main architects, but just how good is what they’ve built, really?
Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

While we may still be basking in the glow of the Dallas Cowboys’ 40-0 triumph over the New York Giants, the team put that behind them on Monday as they started preparations for the New York Jets, now minus long time Cowboys killer Aaron Rodgers. It is a game where both teams are coming off surprising wins in Week 1, Dallas being much more dominant than anyone imagined, and the Jets overcoming that crushing loss of their starting quarterback to come back and defeat the Buffalo Bills in overtime. While this looks like a winnable game for the Cowboys, we must remember that the week after the first game of the season is a time for wild overreaction. The Texas Coast offense was not particularly impressive, with the rain and a big lead arguing for conservatism and caution, but that defense! It looked like a world-beater. And the special teams made a statement of their own with the play that completely reversed things at the end of the very first Giants drive.

But is that real? Our David Howman and Tom Ryle have been thinking about it.

Tom: There are a lot of elements that make me worry the Sunday night massacre was not a good indication of what the Cowboys have. Even if Dallas is better than we thought, it is also possible that the Giants are just that bad. That rain had to have an effect, and there will be perfect conditions inside AT&T Stadium this weekend. Defenses tend to start the season more ready than offenses, and if one team has a better defense, that can be magnified. The Cowboys jumped out to a huge first quarter lead on touchdowns by the special teams and the defense, which is not likely to happen this Sunday. And one thing I think is not talked about enough is how Mike McCarthy, Dan Quinn, and John Fassell had their players ready for the game after the starters sat out the entire preseason. With the abbreviated preseason schedule, many teams look rusty and out of sync in the first game now. That certainly was not the case for Dallas.

All of that leads to musing on whether we really know what the Cowboys are just yet. The Jets may be a much better test, particularly when their defense is on the field.

David: That was the thought that kept going through my head during that extremely satisfying win. Last year’s Giants were a really bad team that got really lucky in close games against a lot of other bad teams. Example: they were 23rd in total team DVOA entering the playoffs. The only playoff team ranked below them was the Vikings at 28, and of course the Giants beat them in the Wild Card round before getting trampled by the Eagles.

I already expected the Giants to have a sharp regression in win total this year because of that fact, and having to start your season in the rain against one of the most dominant defenses of the last two years isn’t exactly going to make it easier. Now, having said that, the Cowboys deserve some credit. Blowout wins don’t just happen in the NFL, and they certainly don’t happen on the scale of the Cowboys’ win Sunday night. This was a good team wiping the floor with a bad team, which is exactly what they should’ve done. I’m not sure how much it actually tells us about the team’s ceiling this year, but to your point it definitely says something about how locked in they were to start the season off.

Tom: Since you mentioned DVOA, it is worth noting that the Cowboys opened the season number 1 in overall DVOA, and it was not even close. Their total was 79.1%, and the second place Jacksonville Jaguars only came in at 58%. The Jets, on the other hand, were seventeenth overall, with 0.3%. But, and it’s a big one, the Jets were up against the Buffalo Bills, and no one is going to make an argument that the Giants are comparable.

Beware small sample sizes, and they don’t get smaller than one. Having said that, I fully expect the Dallas defense to handle Zach Wilson and the New York offense. But the Jets defense should be a much sterner test of the Texas Coast offense. While the offensive line with Chuma Edoga subbing in for Tyler Smith performed admirably against the Giants, it is quite possible Smith will need more time before he returns to the lineup. The Jets will be a bigger problem for the line to handle without their starter. One thing to watch in this matchup is whether Dak Prescott can continue to get rid of the ball quickly. His average 2.37 seconds to get rid of the ball led the league in week one, and that is something that has to be by design. That will negate a lot of pass rush effectiveness, and if he also continues to be on target and avoid turnover worthy plays, this could bode quite well. However, the offense just was not called on to do much against the other New York team. Against a better defense and not likely to be spotted a two-score lead before the first quarter is even over, there should be a lot more stress on Prescott and company. We simply do not know what this year’s version of the offense can do yet. We are about to get a better idea.

David: The Jets defense is not only significantly better than the Giants but also very different. Wink Martindale, the Giants defensive coordinator, loves to blitz and run tight Cover 1 man press coverage behind it. Meanwhile, nobody blitzed less or ran more quarters coverage than the Jets last year. Schematically speaking, these defenses are polar opposites, and the Jets also have quite a bit of talent, headlined by Quinnen Williams and Sauce Gardner.

This will be a much harder defense to go up against, and we’ll learn a lot more about the difference between Kellen Moore and Mike McCarthy as play-callers because of it. That said, the Cowboys didn’t need much from their offense last week because the defense was so dominant, and they figure to have a similar performance this week. The Jets offensive line looked bad on Monday night, and Wilson’s lack of pocket awareness exacerbated that issue worse than Daniel Jones did against Dallas. I definitely expect Dak Prescott and company to have a harder time moving the ball in this one, but I’m not so sure that they’ll be needing to score at will either. At least they shouldn’t be, given the hefty advantage that their defense will have over a Wilson-led offense.

Tom: If there is one thing I think we can reasonably take from the first game, it is that this could be a very special Dallas defense, indeed. I’m not sure when they will face the first real test this season. It is always perilous to look ahead, but it might not be until the San Francisco 49ers or the Los Angeles Chargers games that we see Dan Quinn have a real challenge on his hands. I do expect the defense to keep things well in hand, and that should allow the offense to continue to roll out the revamped scheme without having to push too fast. In any season, you really have to get through the first four games or so to have a real idea of how good any team is, and that is probably more so for the Cowboys after they breezed through the Giants so easily. I don’t think we will have a good sense of just how good Dallas is this year after the Jets game, just a bit more information. I guess we’ll just have to dissect that next week.

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