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Yet another statement: Cowboys roll another divisional opponent

Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire

Yet another statement: Cowboys roll another divisional opponent

Almost exactly a year to the date of his injury, Dak Prescott took the same field in the same stadium against the same team. After a slow start he attributed to a “mental fog” due to the injury anniversary, Prescott settled and led Dallas to a 44-20 win. “I think this was the final shovel in burying this thing.”

The Cowboys go as Prescott goes and things started off a bit slowly. After turnovers in two of the first three drives, Dallas had controlled the whole game but only had a 3-0 lead after the first quarter. Then things opened up when Prescott dropped a picture-perfect deep ball to CeeDee Lamb for a 49-yard score. Lamb beat standout Giants corner James Bradberry on a nine route and Prescott couldn’t have delivered a prettier ball. From there, the Cowboys’ offense began to cook like it has all year.

After a bit of a sloppy first half, Dallas took a 17-10 lead into the half and the Giants opened the second half with a field goal to cut the lead to four. From there, the floodgates opened in a similar fashion to Dallas’ third-quarter onslaught against Carolina. About an hour and 17 unanswered points later, Dallas held a 34-13 lead in the mid-fourth quarter and it was over from there.

Let’s break down how Dallas performed in its 44-20 blowout of a battered and beaten-up New York team.

Offense

After a slow start from Prescott that included an interception on the first possession and a fumble at the goal line on the third possession, it was clear Prescott was pressing a little bit given the circumstances of his injury anniversary. Prescott said that after the touchdown pass to Lamb, things cleared up and he was back. “That was when I just started rolling and got in the groove,” he said. Prescott was spectacular again, finishing with 302 passing yards and three touchdowns as he continued to assert himself as a legitimate MVP candidate.

Prescott was incredible on third down. He completed 10 out of 12 passing attempts on third down for an absurd 16 yards per attempt and a quarterback rating of 99.7 (out of 100!). Prescott leads the NfL in conversion percentage on third down passes this season.

It was another week of Prescott masterfully spreading the ball to his impressive array of weapons as Kellen Moore continued to orchestrate the offense. Prescott’s deep ball continued to shine as he now has the fourth-highest accuracy percentage on throws 20 or more yards down the field, as he is hitting those throws at a 50 percent clip. Dalton Schultz had another strong performance with six catches for 79 yards as he has become Prescott’s safety valve. Schultz leads Dallas with 26 receptions. Amari Cooper also found the end zone as he finished with three catches for 60 yards and a score. Prescott spread the ball to seven different receivers.

The offensive line continued its fantastic play as Prescott was only sacked twice and the Giants’ edge rushers racked up just one pressure, per PFF. But where the offensive line has been completely dominant is in the run game. The Cowboys racked up 201 rushing yards on 5.2 yards per rush as Ezekiel Elliott finished with 110 rushing yards and a score while Tony Pollard pitched in 75 yards of his own. It was Dallas’ first game of 300 or more passing yards and 200 or more rushing yards since 1983.

Dallas’ rushing attack has been nothing short of dominant. The Cowboys are fourth in the league in rushing EPA per play, second in rushing success rate, second in rushing yards per game, and second in yards per rush. This even includes a minuscule rushing performance against Tampa Bay. Over their other four games, Dallas has racked up 803 rushing yards and a little under 201 yards per game. For reference, the league’s top rushing attack in yards per game is Cleveland with 187 rushing yards per game.

Dallas’ offensive line has led the way for one of the league’s top rushing attacks and has done a great job of keeping Prescott clean. Doing this without La’el Collins is what has been even more impressive. Terence Steele has done a great job of filling in at right tackle for the suspended Collins, who will return after next week’s bye.

This offense has just continued to be a machine. Dallas converted eight of 14 third down attempts on Sunday. Dallas is first in yards, second in points, is averaging 6.5 yards per play, and is converting an absurd 51.6 percent of its third downs (good for second in the league). Dallas also leads the NFL in explosive plays (plays of 20 or more yards) with 45. These are just a few of many stats that illuminate how elite this group is. It will be fun to see what Bill Belichick has in store to attempt to stop this freight train of an offense.

Defense

It was another solid performance for the Dallas defense that has continued to impress through the first five weeks. Much of the Giants’ production came in garbage time, so do not be deceived. The Dallas defense played very well. The Giants converted just four of 13 third down attempts and completed a little over 50 percent of their passes.

The Dallas defensive front didn’t record a sack but did a fantastic job putting pressure on the quarterback all afternoon. Randy Gregory completely terrorized New York left tackle Nate Solder, as he racked up nine pressures, six hurries, and three QB hits. He was the team’s highest-graded player, per PFF. Osa Odighizuwa turned in another good performance as the rookie defensive tackle had four pressures, two QB hits, two hurries, and a tackle for loss. Micah Parsons had four pressures, two hits, and two hurries of his own. The young Cowboys defensive front got after Daniel Jones and Mike Glennon and it showed.

Parsons played well at linebacker as well as defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has continued to change up what the star rookie’s role is. Brian Baldinger does a great breakdown of some of Parsons’ tape below. His closing speed is truly terrifying.

Leighton Vander Esch played possibly his best game in recent memory as well. Per PFF he recorded two stops and let up just 13 yards in coverage. The snap count split between Vander Esch and Keanu Neal was 31-34 in favor of Neal. Going forward it will be interesting to see how the linebacker snap counts play out given the variability of Parsons’ role, Neal working back from COVID-19, Vander Esch’s level of play, and the apparent emergence of Jabril Cox following Jaylon Smith‘s departure.

In the back end of the secondary, Trevon Diggs did it again. My reaction on Twitter was how most of us following the Cowboys reacted:

It is silly. Six interceptions in five games. Nine interceptions in 16 career games. He is turning into an elite cornerback and an elite playmaker and it is completely changing the Cowboys. There has been a narrative going around that he has been getting toasted and he is just thriving off interceptions. He truly is a fun roller coaster of a player. He will get beat but makes up for it with how many plays he makes. He leads the league in interceptions and has the lowest QB rating allowed in the league.

On the other side Anthony Brown has quietly been playing much better since getting attacked by Tom Brady on opening night and capped it with a pick six in the waning minutes of the game. The whole Dallas secondary has been much better, especially at safety as the Cowboys appear to have some nice depth there. Damontae Kazee, Jayron Kearse, and Malik Hooker have been solid in the back end and Dallas should be getting Donovan Wilson back soon.

The Dallas defense is by no means dominant or elite but it is just about average – which is perfect for what Dallas needs given how elite the offense is. The Cowboys are 14th in points allowed per game and are second only to the Bills in takeaways. Dan Quinn and the Dallas scouts deserve a ton of credit for improving this unit. The injection of young talent into the defense has greatly changed the math. Parsons, Odighizuwa, and Chauncey Golston have been fantastic amid the absence of DeMarcus Lawrence.

This unit will improve once the rest of the cavalry returns. Stephen Jones said that Lawrence and Neville Gallimore are still both about three-to-four weeks from returning. Dallas also awaits the return of Donovan Wilson and Kelvin Joseph. There are flaws but this defense has been exactly what the Cowboys need so far. The takeaways will dry up at some point, it will just be about keeping it going until the defense can get fully healthy again.

Where to go from here?

Keep stacking wins. Given Dallas’ schedule, it has a real chance at the number one seed in the NFC. FiveThirtyEight gives Dallas a 10 percent chance at the first-round bye, trailing the Rams (17 percent), Bucs (25 percent), and the Cardinals (32 percent). The Cowboys have a chance to put this division on ice early in the season given a very difficult upcoming schedule for their NFC East bunkmates. Dallas will head to New England Sunday as the Cowboys look to take a 5-1 record into the bye week. This team is looking more and more like a contender each week. Amari Cooper put it best: “When you’re on a roll like this, you start thinking Super Bowl.”

Staff Writer covering the Dallas Cowboys and Co-Host of The Victory Avenue Podcast

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