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After years of waiting for a championship QB, Cowboys defense may be the difference

Dak Prescott may not have to carry the team back to the Super Bowl after all.

New York Jets v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Quarterbacks have always received a disproportionate amount of the credit and blame for their teams’ championship success rate. The Dallas Cowboys have certainly been no different; Dak Prescott and Tony Romo have been criticized for not accomplishing what Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach did before them. But with the way the Cowboys' defense is looking in 2023, the quarterback’s job may be getting a whole lot easier.

After shutting out the Giants in the season opener and holding the Jets to just 10 points last Sunday, Dallas’ defense had spearheaded an unbelievable +60 margin of victory over the first games of the year. With one touchdown scored off an interception, six other turnovers generated, ten sacks, and just about anything else you could ask for, Dan Quinn’s crew has already put the NFL on notice.

With Micah Parsons on a Defensive Player of the Year pace and plenty of potential Pro Bowlers around him, this Cowboys defense is starting to remind you of some of the storied groups who led their teams to Super Bowls. You’ve probably heard it said, or said it yourself, that “even Trent Dilfer won a Super Bowl” thanks to Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and that legendary early-2000s Ravens defense. Or maybe you've referenced Brad Johnson and the 2002 Buccaneers, with Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, and others truly leading the way.

Even when all-time quarterbacks have won Super Bowls in the modern era, they rarely did it without some great defenses helping the cause. Would Tom Brady have all those rings without the work of Richard Seymour, Willie McGinest, and many others? Peyton Manning had Dwight Freeney and Bob Sanders leading the other side of the ball. Would Pat Mahomes have two rings without Chris Jones?

The Cowboys may not have a Brady or Mahomes at quarterback with Dak Prescott. You’re not a hater if you say that; it’s perfectly fair given their compared performance. But while Prescott may not be on that top tier at his position, he’s far from a Dilfer or Johnson on the other end of the NFL starting QB spectrum.

That’s what has the football world raising their eyebrows now with the 2023 Dallas Cowboys. If the defense keeps playing at this level, the pressure keeps melting away from Prescott and the offense. They can deal with growing pains under Mike McCarthy and Brian Schottenheimer’s new offense, weather the storm of injuries to starters like LG Tyler Smith and WR Brandin Cooks, and stick to a generally conservative style that minimizes game-killing turnovers.

The narrative that Prescott and Romo have lacked defensive help has always been a bit overblown; plenty of Dallas defenders have made their way to the Pro Bowl through the years. DeMarcus Ware was just put in the Hall of Fame. But it’s no reach to say that this year’s defense is showing something that the Cowboys haven’t seen in a long, long time.

Parsons seems to have ascended to rarefied air among NFL defenders and his teammates appear to be rising with the tide. DeMarcus Lawrence is thriving with less attention, Trevon Diggs is still a star, and Osa Odighizuwa is emerging in his third season. With the savvy addition of CB Stephon Gilmore solidifying the defensive backfield, this group seems more dangerous and complete than ever. We haven’t even seen Donovan Wilson, one of the better playmakers of the bunch, in uniform yet.

So what’s the comparison here? If this turns out to be one of those storybook defenses, with a quarterback who may not be top-tier but is far from a bus driver, who do these Cowboys remind you of? Coincidentally, it might be the last team Dan Quinn helped win a Super Bowl.

The 2013 Seattle Seahawks featured the Legion of Boom but also boasted a very strong year from QB Russell Wilson. He was highly efficient and safe with the ball, posting a 101.2 passer rating and 26 passing touchdowns to just nine interceptions. While he only had 3,357 passing yards on the year, Wilson made plenty of big plays in key moments and was a key factor in Seattle’s only Super Bowl win.

We’ve seen the high-volume, 4,900-yard version of Dak Prescott. But putting up huge numbers from September to December doesn’t always translate to the postseason. A more efficient, risk-averse style from Prescott may not be as exciting but it could be a much easier path to a title if coupled with a great defense.

After decades of asking these Cowboys quarterbacks to get the team back to Super Bowl glory, their best chance may now be about Micah Parsons, Dan Quinn, and the other side of the ball. Say what you want about the competition, but Dallas hasn’t just been squeaking by the last two weeks. This level of dominance, especially with missing parts, is something nobody saw coming.

Many will have to play the hero this year if the Cowboys are going to achieve their ultimate goal. Dak Prescott’s moments will come, but now there will hopefully be fewer of them as the defense takes over the spotlight. If this does prove to be a special year for Dallas, it could be because Micah Parsons finally emerged as the legendary player we’ve been unfairly expecting our quarterbacks to be.

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