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Cowboys lesson learned: Consistency is key

It’s not the plays that stand out that make the most difference.

NFL: New York Jets at Dallas Cowboys
Here’s two examples of how important consistency is.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Going into what would become a 30-10 win over the New York Jets, there was a lingering question about the way the Dallas Cowboys had trounced the New York Giants, 40-0, to open the season. Was that early domination reflective of the real nature of this year’s Dallas team? Now we have a second data point to use, and there are some strong indications that it may just be so. The important thing is that a whole bunch of things we saw in week one were front and center again in week two. That is a very good thing.

Let’s start with what is universally seen as the real strength of the Cowboys, the defense. Replicating good defensive performances is generally considered more difficult than it is on offense. But in many ways, the Jets game just continued many of the trends from the win over the Giants. Holding the opponent’s score down is obvious, but there is much more. Dallas held the NFC New York team to 175 yards, while the AFC one did little better with 215. There are many other similarities:

Third-down conversion rate: NYG 31.3%/NYJ 10% (!)
Total first downs: 14/12
Sacks: 7/3
Takeaways: 3/4
QB rating allowed: 32.4/38.1

For things that can be so variable game to game, the Cowboys were remarkably consistent. Sacks and takeaways in particular can be subject to wild swings, but while the sacks fell off from one game to another, it was getting multiple ones that is the focus here. Not recorded as simply in the stats is the almost constant pressure on both the opposing quarterbacks. Credit here goes mainly to Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, and the rest of the pass rushers, including some surprising contributions from DTs Osa Odighizuwa and Chauncey Golston. Daniel Jones and Zach Wilson were constantly running for their lives. It is notable that both quarterbacks were significant contributors to the running attacks for their respective teams, and it wasn’t by design, but just them escaping the rush. And behind the pass rush, the secondary has been impressive, as exhibited by the low QB ratings. I can’t mention that without including this:

It’s not the first time I have embedded that in a post. I ain’t promising it will be the last, either.

Levity aside, this is just an impressive week-to-week performance for the defense. The first week was clearly not a fluke. However, there is a legitimate point that neither Jones nor Wilson are among the best quarterbacks in the league. But remember how many times we have seen supposedly lower-tier QBs embarrassing the Cowboys in past years. This was, to a degree, exactly what you would expect the Dallas defense to do, and they did not disappoint. While we have to wait to see how they will do when better QB talents line up across from them, this is an indication that they are ready for it. And that they are ready for whatever else the other offenses bring to the table.

Offensive consistency is supposedly easier to maintain. The first game was influenced by rain, but there are still some important things that carried over between games on that side of the ball. One is the production of Tony Pollard, who went for 70 and then 72 yards running the ball. That is a level of output that is workable in the NFL. Also absolutely consistent was that CeeDee Lamb was the big target for Dak Prescott. He led all receivers in both games, with 77 yards in game one and then almost doubling his output with 143 the ensuing week. Further, he has caught 15 of his 17 targets. While the Cowboys need to have some other receivers step up, you can do a lot with your WR1 producing like that.

Prescott himself had a couple of notable ways he was steady. First, he has not thrown an interception so far this season, although he did get away with one against the Jets. Still, the problem from last year may well have gone away. A big reason for that is probably the new Texas Coast offense, which Prescott seems very comfortable working in. Last Sunday, with the favorable conditions inside AT&T Stadium, he displayed another kind of consistency, completing his first thirteen pass attempts, and finishing the game with a stat line of 31 for 38 and two touchdowns.

This may be the most important element for the success of Mike McCarthy’s new-look offense. It depends on a high degree of accuracy from the quarterback, with a quick release. Prescott has been getting rid of the ball well so far, and against the Jets, it married with that high degree of accuracy. If this carries forward, this could be a very successful offense all season.

Somewhat surprisingly, the offensive line has been quite steady despite the absence of Tyler Smith. Chuma Edoga filled in quite well for six quarters, but had to leave the Jets game just before halftime with a hyperextended elbow. That forced UDFA rookie T.J. Bass into the lineup, and nothing really seemed to change. If this line can maintain that kind of play even as players are rotated in and out, it will be an excellent sign for the future.

Speaking of the offensive line, one strange but welcome consistency has been the heads up play of center Tyler Biadasz. In both games, he has saved a lost fumble by being on the spot to recover the loose ball - and both came downfield, including the one CeeDee Lamb lost in the Jets game that was 30 yards past the line of scrimmage. The hustle of the center is more than impressive. We don’t want to see him having to bail his teammates out like that on a regular basis, but he deserves nothing but praise for his work so far.

There is something else that was consistent, but it is not universally liked by fans. With big leads, McCarthy has been cautious, even conservative, avoiding high-risk plays. It makes for less excitement, but it has unquestionably been successful. And despite it, large margins of victory have also been a feature of both games so far, with the Cowboys outscoring their opponents by a whopping 60 points so far. That makes domination yet anther consistency for a team that has not trailed yet. It has made things very undramatic, which may be bad for ratings, but is much more relaxing for Dallas fans.

There is another bit of consistency that hardly any of us saw coming. After missing his first extra point attempt of the season, Brandon Aubrey has been perfect, including a 55-yard kick that he made with ease. Rolling with him was widely criticized, but this is a gamble that so far has paid off. This is no assurance at all it will continue, but making all five of his FG attempts plus the lone extra point he kicked in the Jets game is indeed consistent.

Most importantly is that in both games so far Dallas has clearly been the better team on the field. I was watching the MNF games while I was writing this, and both games were quite the display of bad football. It is far too early to declare the Cowboys as one of the true powers in the league, but the early returns are certainly good.

Now to just maintain the consistency.

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