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A look at the factors behind the Cowboys elite start to the 2023 season

Things are going well for the Dallas Cowboys. So well.

NFL: Houston Texans at Dallas Cowboys
The architects.
Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

Two games in the books for the Dallas Cowboys, both of them dominant wins with the outcome never really in doubt. Let’s examine.

Don’t talk to me about the opponents, this kind of superiority is not at all common in the NFL

Very few games are truly automatic wins for even the best teams, because the worst rosters in the league are still composed of players who made it to the league over so many hopefuls who failed. It is not even easy for teams to tank, because those players have too much pride and still try to outscore the other guys.

Clearly, it is this awesome defense that is leading the way. Through two games, here is where Dan Quinn’s unit ranks in the following categories per ESPN:

Points allowed: 1st
Yards given up: 1st
Passing yards per game: 1st
Takeaways: 1st
Interceptions: 1st
Sacks: tied for 1st
Completion %: 2nd
QB rating allowed: 3rd
Third-down conversions: 3rd

For upcoming opponents, that has to be at least worrisome, and might be downright scary. The defensive roster is full of stars like Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Trevon Diggs, and it is hard to find any weakness so far.

With that kind of defensive showing, the Cowboys’ offense has been able to take a, shall we say, more relaxed approach to things. The Texas Coast scheme has yet to look like it was playing at its full potential, especially with the dismal red zone performance against the New York Jets, but then they hardly had to. They just piled up field goals and stretched the lead. A three-score margin of victory is still impressive. And the team ranks first in points scored, with a little help from a score each by the defense and special teams. They also are tied for second in sacks allowed with just one, and are tied for first in not giving the ball away yet this year. They are fourth in the NFL on converting third downs. And you can add that Brandon Aubrey is perfect on field goals and has only missed his first extra point attempt of the young season.

We logically expect all this to change, perhaps a good bit, once they start to face some more capable opponents. But with a trip to play the Arizona Cardinals this Sunday, that may be delayed a bit longer.

The QB

As noted, Dak Prescott has not been called on to do a whole lot in the first two wins, but he is still off to a great start in many categories. His completion percentage ranks eighth overall, despite multiple drops in the rain against the New York Giants. He ranks second in ESPN’s adjusted QB rating behind only Brock Purdy of the San Francisco 49ers, which has to whet your appetite for the week six trip to play them.

Last Sunday, Prescott just looked so comfortable running the plays Mike McCarthy was sending in for him. He is getting the ball out quickly and making mostly excellent decisions on who to throw to. It is a legitimate conclusion that McCarthy and Brian Schottenheimer have built this scheme to maximize Prescott’s talents and minimize his weaknesses. So far, this has been a success, despite the lack of volume stats. They certainly are scoring more than enough points to win so far. Even without the outstanding work of the defense, they are putting enough points on the board to win most NFL games.

The quiet effectiveness of the run game

If there is something that seems a bit less than satisfactory so far this year, it is the ground attack. The team still sees too many short gains that don’t help them get to the next first down, or get across the goal line in the case of the Jets game.

But this is still the eighth most productive running attack in the league. A big part of that is the 142 yards Tony Pollard has contributed. That is good enough for tenth overall among running backs, and he’s behind a lot of players whose teams lean much more heavily on running the ball than the Cowboys. Yes, Dallas needs to do better, especially in yards per carry. Dallas is in the bottom half of the league there, getting to their eighth overall ranking because they have run so many offensive plays through the combination of the defense getting off the field and putting long drives together. They rank second in the league in rushing attempts.

Reinforcements are coming

Three important players missed the Jets game. Tyler Smith and Donovan Wilson have been held out for both games so far, and Brandin Cooks sat out Sunday as well. It looks like there is a realistic hope that some of them, perhaps all three, will be back on the field to face Arizona. Jourdan Lewis has already returned to the lineup after missing the season opener.

This time of year, many teams are already facing the attrition battle, but at the moment, the Cowboys are getting stronger. This can’t continue all season, but for now, it could be a big help in getting wins early. The NFC East looks like it is going to be pretty stout again this season, with only one loss among all four teams, and that one the Giants’ loss to Dallas within the division. The longer the Cowboys can put off their first loss, the better.

The offensive line

Everyone felt some level of concern over Tyler Smith’s absence, but with a combination of Chuma Edoga and T.J. Bass filling in, the offense has not suffered. Now if he is back, things could be better, particularly that issue with the running game. We will still hold our breath that the starters have good health the rest of the season, but we have to feel better after seeing how they weathered the first storm. That seems a testament to the job Mike Solari has done in his first year back with Dallas.

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