It’s hard to envision a better start to the season for the Cowboys, aside from Ryan Succop’s game-winning field goal in Tampa Bay not going through the uprights. Seemingly everything is clicking and now Dallas looks like a force to be reckoned with.
The Panthers went into the half with a 14-13 lead and were receiving the ball first to start the second half. D.J. Moore took the ball 39 yards down field and the Panthers were officially in business. And then the avalanche happened. A missed field goal, two interceptions, and 23 Cowboys points later, the rout was on.
Things got a little bit dicey toward the end of the fourth quarter as the 36-14 lead was cut to 36-28, but the game was never much in doubt. It was another dominant performance from the Cowboys, especially offensively. This offense is unique in that there are so many ways to beat defenses and it seems like Dallas is picking opponents apart differently each week.
Prescott spreads the ball around without a concern of making sure star players get their touches. He spreads it around to his receivers and tight ends to the point that if CeeDee Lamb has a quiet day, that likely means Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin are having a big day as they did Sunday.
This week Dallas rode the rushing attack again and Dak Prescott was masterful again as he poured on four touchdowns. Ezekiel Elliott looks the most explosive he’s looked since his rookie year. He’s averaging more yards per carry than his rookie year with 5.3 yards per carry so far this year, and broke his longest rush since his rookie year with a 47-yard carry Sunday. Elliott’s revival is a perfect storm of three things: Elliott being in much better shape and being much leaner, fantastic run blocking, and Tony Pollard taking some of the load off his shoulders.
This is by far the least amount of touches Elliott has had through four weeks in his career with 71 touches so far. At this point of the season in 2016-2020 he had 100, 92, 88, 84, and 93 touches, respectively. This is the freshest and most efficient Elliott we’ve seen in years and it’s due to those three factors.
On the other side of the ball the young Cowboys continue to impress. After a rough first half, Dan Quinn dialed up lots of pressure on Sam Darnold the entire second half. It put Darnold off of his spot and forced him into a lot of mistakes, including two massive interceptions to Trevon Diggs, who continued his early-season tear with his fourth and fifth interceptions of the season. I said before the season that if Dallas is going to be successful, it needs Diggs to take a second-year leap. So far Diggs has begun establishing himself was one of the league’s premier cornerbacks.
The other element of the defense that has taken things to a new level has been Randy Gregory and the rest of the pass rush. Gregory had another monster afternoon with two sacks and toyed with Cam Erving all afternoon. Osa Odighizuwa continued his incredible start to his rookie season. He already has seven quarterback hits, which is three more than any Cowboys defensive tackle had last year.
Odighizuwa and Micah Parsons lead all defensive rookies in quarterback pressures as well. After missing all of training camp, Chauncey Golston has been impressive in his first two career games as well as he recorded a half-sack Sunday. Dallas racked up 11 hits and five sacks on Darnold, which much of that coming from the defensive adjustments of the second half.
In the third quarter of this game the Cowboys put a stranglehold on the game and did not let go.
Where does this leave the Cowboys among the NFC contenders?
With a strong 3-1 start and the only loss coming through a last-second field goal to the defending Super Bowl champs on opening night, the Cowboys are looking like one of the strongest teams in the conference. At this point I would probably slot them behind the Cardinals, Rams, Packers, and Bucs, but the Cowboys have a chance to stack a lot of wins over the next few weeks before they head to Kansas City.
The Cowboys are absolutely one of the, if not the best offenses in the NFL. Here is where Dallas ranks in success rate:
Where the Cowboys' offense ranks in Success Rate (% of plays with positive EPA):
Passing plays: No. 2 (Chiefs No. 1)
Rushing plays: No. 1
Overall: No. 1
On early downs (first and second combined), it's a clean sweep:
Passing plays: No. 1
Rushing plays: No. 1
Overall: No. 1
— AdamJT13 (@AdamJT13) October 4, 2021
If the Cowboys defense can continue this tear at least until DeMarcus Lawrence and the rest of the injured defenders return, Dallas can establish itself as one of the powers in the NFC and put the NFC East on ice quickly. Up next: the New York Giants come to Arlington.
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