The Dallas Cowboys have outscored New York football teams 70-10 this season, starting the year 2-0. In Mike McCarthy’s home opener as the team’s play caller, the Cowboys offense showed more than they did at the Giants in week one, but were still given a comfortable lead by the defense holding the Jets to ten points on 12 first downs and 215 net yards.
The Jets entire game plan for the rest of the season changed in week one when they lost Aaron Rodgers at QB, needing to lean on their own defense in hopes Zach Wilson could get the ball to Garrett Wilson, Allen Lazard, and Randall Cobb while avoiding costly turnovers. This worked for the Jets against Josh Allen and the Bills, but not a patient offense like the Cowboys, who happily took what the Jets were giving them both on the ground and through the air to control this game and win 30-10.
It was the Cowboys defense that proved more opportunistic, taking the ball away four times including three interceptions by Jayron Kearse, Malik Hooker, and Trevon Diggs. All three picks came with the Cowboys already up by 17, as their defense stood up against the run early on to make Wilson throw from behind to beat them.
Before the Cowboys roll into another game they’re heavily favored in on the road at the Cardinals, here are some immediate takeaways from four clean quarters that put Dallas at 2-0, tied in the NFC East with Philadelphia and Washington.
- The Cowboys faced 18 third downs in this game, converting nine with an average distance to go of 6.5 yards. This may be slightly further behind the chains than the Cowboys would regularly like to be, but there’s a newfound confidence in Dak Prescott converting these chances that wasn’t present in Kellen Moore’s scheme. While Moore would sequence similar plays together that had the defense prepared to guard the line to gain on third down, McCarthy has been able to creatively get the ball to his best players to extend drives.
Three of CeeDee Lamb’s eleven catches in this game were on third down, moving around the formation to not be locked up with Sauce Gardner in coverage. When extra coverage was brought Lamb’s way, on his way to a 143 yard day, a group of pass catchers playing without veteran Brandin Cooks was able to take advantage. Tony Pollard, Jalen Tolbert, Deuce Vaughn, and Kavontae Turpin all had touches in space, while tight ends Jake Ferguson and rookie Luke Schoonmaker each got involved with a touchdown.
- The first points scored against the Cowboys this season came in the second quarter, when electric receiver Garrett Wilson drew the Jets within 10-7. Wilson had the game-tying touchdown on Monday night of week one, sparking an overtime win for his team. This 68-yard score came on a concept Dallas can expect to see more of against their aggressive man defense. Stephon Gilmore was in good position covering the crossing route, but Wilson threw the pass with perfect timing as Diggs was carried out of the play by an opposite crossing route, This left Wilson against Malik Hooker with the ball in his hands, and Wilson quickly beat the angle, broke a Hooker tackle, and scored.
The Cowboys are willing to live with potentially giving up plays over the top like this, with the trade off their safeties give them closer to the box. Kearse, Hooker, and Juayeh Thomas all make their best plays closer to the line of scrimmage, but as the team works Donovan Wilson back into the lineup, and proves they can defend the run with their front four, more deep safety looks to protect against similar coverage busts could be an added wrinkle for Dan Quinn.
- Speaking of run defense from the Cowboys front seven, defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa is not-so-quietly having one of the best starts to the season for anyone on this front. The Cowboys have a solid pass rushing interior player with Odighizuwa, but also retained Johnathan Hankins and drafted Mazi Smith to give them a bigger look against the run. The Cowboys put their trust in a deep group of edge rushers led by Micah Parsons to get to the QB, but with Odighizuwa, Hankins and Smith defending the run fine so far while also pushing the pocket, it’s given opposing passers no chance to settle in the pocket.
Parsons has gotten home the fastest when going against guards, typically rushing the A-gap after Odighizuwa has occupied a guard or center. The versatility from these tackles and ability for almost anyone to line up behind them is causing confusion for offenses before the snap, not knowing where the rush is coming from while also being caught off guard by how quick Odighizuwa and Neville Gallimore can get in the backfield themselves. The pair combined for two key run stops in the first quarter, first with Osa stopping a third down that should have led to a Jets punt. Instead, New York ran a fake and converted, only to stay on the field for three more plays as their ensuing third and short was stopped by Gallimore.
The time will come where the Cowboys play a closer game that calls for more run defense snaps, but the all-out potential of their pass rush has been on full display in two blowout wins thus far, with Parsons himself showing he can wreck a game no matter who else is lined up with him.
- Another encouraging sign from the Cowboys offense was the usage of both Turpin and Vaughn together. Late in the Giants win, Turpin took a handoff for a TD on the type of play many expected to see Vaughn in. This could have been a case of the Cowboys wanting to keep Vaughn on ice for a larger role later, and he saw more playing time against the Jets. Turpin was featured mostly as a receiver, while Vaughn lined up in the backfield for three carries, and was targeted three more on short passes. The Cowboys clearly want both players to be more than just gadgets in this offense, giving Prescott the best overall speed he’s had from a supporting cast in his career when also considering Tony Pollard, Tolbert, Lamb, and Cooks.