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The Cowboys Are Emerging as True Contenders

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Do you remember the game of the first week of cowboys against pirates? It feels like it was a lifetime ago. Dallas lost that game 19-3, and Dak Prescott’s nightmarish 14-of-29, 134 yards, pick and two sacks ended in the worst possible: a broken throwing thumb that knocked him out of the game. at least four weeks.

Duck’s injury was the cherry on top of a long, disappointing downward spiral of Dallas’ optimism. It started when Amari Cooper was traded for pennies to the Cleveland Browns and continued when the Cowboys announced they had signed Randy Gregory, only to have Gregory turn down Dallas and go to the Denver Broncos. Franchise left tackle Tyrone Smith suffered an avulsion fracture of the knee shortly before the start of the season, leaving rookie left tackle Tyler Smith in the starting role in the first week. Michael Gallup, recovering from an ACL tear sustained towards the end of the 2021 season, has been unable to start the year; Prescott, defenseman Connor McGovern and guard Jaron Kears were injured during a game with the Bucks. Tough decisions and tough breakthroughs, one after the other.

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All of these injuries made it hard for the Cowboys to calculate—even harder when they started winning games. With Cooper Rush at quarterback, the Cowboys went 4-1, winning low-scoring games thanks to Dan Quinn’s defense. Six weeks later they were 4-2. So it was with the Vikings and the giants. It was a strange time when we thought the records were lying, and the Cowboys were lying somewhere in this tangled pile.

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But now, with six more weeks in the books, it’s clear that there’s nothing complicated about these 2022 Cowboys. It’s the time of year when contenders define themselves, and the Cowboys are legitimate contenders. Just ask the Minnesota Vikings, everyone’s favorite litmus test of team spirit, who were defeated 40-3 by the Cowboys last Sunday. Thirty-seven points conceded against quality opponents is no accident; Dallas didn’t stumble on that win. They dominated and thus announced their arrival in the contenders.

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Dallas is primarily a rival to the same group that got them through the Rush era: the defensive line. Dallas leads the league in pressure this season after one of the most impressive defensive line performances of the season: Dallas pressured Kirk Cousins ​​in over 60 percent of his throwbacks, the single highest play of Kirk Cousins’ career. .

Everyone knows the first reason the Cowboys are under so much pressure: Micah Parsons. The second-year off-ball linebacker turned pass rush connoisseur is a huge favorite for Defensive Player of the Year, and rightfully so: he ranks third in the league in sacks despite only rushing a passer in 82 percent of the opposing team’s passing games. . .

While everyone may know that Parsons is a stellar pass rusher, I’m not sure the nature of his skills is still appreciated. I don’t think there is a more physically gifted pass rusher in the league than Parsons. I don’t think there is a more physically gifted quarterback. player in a league than Parsons, with the possible exception of Aaron Donald, and I think there’s a case for either side.

Parsons is a stunning mover. In many plays where Parsons ends up pressing or sliding, he should have been on the butt or stuck on the block. Look at the size of the space Parsons is sliding through here as he maintains his momentum by bouncing off the center and then taking high strides over his outstretched leg to explode into Cousins.

Or watch this replay as Parsons hooks on Blake Brandel’s spare left tackle with his right hand, then drags and whips Brandel, slowing down hard and landing on Cousins.

There is an intuitive athleticism here that cannot be taught. The best slower rushers – Brian Burns, Daniel Hunter – don’t move like that. Even von Miller, who moves in inexplicable ways, doesn’t have this special combination of length, explosive power, slowdown, change of direction, and strength. Parsons is not just a star, he is a decade-defining star and will be compared to every other player in his position for the foreseeable future.

But the Cowboys don’t just have Parsons. They have DeMarcus Lawrence, a longtime top 10 pass rusher who is still playing at the highest level as a 30-year veteran. And they have Dante Fowler Jr., the season’s best after 11.5 sacks with the Los Angeles Rams in 2019. And they have Dorance Armstrong, a rotational quarterback who already has seven sacks this season. And they have Osa Odigizuwa, the best pass rusher in the top 15 in terms of pressure from a defensive position. And they have Sam Williams, the second-round rookie with the second-best pressure of any freshman defenseman.

The bottom line should be clear by now: Dallas has six linebackers with a pressure ratio of over 10 percent—only the Cardinals have that many. This makes Dallas a dangerous player with clear passes. On 3rd and 7+, when the Cowboys can start their pass rush without caring about run defense, Dallas allows the third lowest conversion percentage — not only because they can build pressure, but also because they can create pressure with four and fall. seven defenders in cover.

The Dallas pass rush is the backbone of their defense, but the pass cover more than does its part of the deal. After the Cowboys lived with coverage last season and relied on the turnover generation offered by Trevon Diggs, the Cowboys are now a mid-level team in the league in terms of player coverage. Defensive depth was tested following Jordan Lewis’s season-ending injury, but safety depth allowed the Cowboys to play big, launch fake blitz packs, and protect their non-Parsons linebackers from cover attacks.

The Cowboys’ defense has fallen on hard times. This has given the team an airbag in NFC and especially in the NFC East where the Giants and Commanders still insist on placing wildcards. The Cowboys won games even when they were a confused team. And that gave the attack time to level the ship.

The Dallas offense has undergone a slow process of growth over the course of the season. They started without Michael Gallup and Amari Cooper, two of Prescott’s top targets last season. Another top target for Prescott, Dalton Schultz, missed games midway through the season with his own injury as Gallup slowly made his way back into the roster. Just as the passing gun seemed steady, running back Ezekiel Elliot’s franchise wasted time, forcing the Cowboys to experiment with Tony Pollard as a leading quarterback.

These are all great storylines, but no storyline is bigger than a Tyler Smith play. A clear weakness early in the season with a rookie leaving the tackle without much help, little has been said about Smith over the past few weeks. it good news for offensive tackle. When an offensive hold is not discussed, it means that it is not noticed. He doesn’t give up on pressure. He does his job.

After Tyrone Smith, who has always thought about the future of left tackle, Tyler Smith was expected to play left back this season and will likely return to guard when Tyrone Smith, who is expected to return in December, is healthy. The Cowboys held up for a while in a Viking showdown with Smith on defense and Jason Peters on the tackle, just to have Smith play live in the interior. But it was Smith’s time with left tackle that accelerated his learning curve so that he is now a plus starter in left tackle, giving the Cowboys the time and freedom to bring Tyrone Smith on board at whatever schedule his body allows. Dallas’ offensive line may not be as elite as it was early in Prescott’s career, but it’s above average.

This maximizes the value of Prescott, a determined pocket passer who excels in pocketing and executing his progressions. See how Prescott scans the field as Pollard touches down, and how easily Smith escorts Danielle Hunter past the top of the pocket.

Pollard’s arrival is another lucky break for Dallas to start the injury season. Long considered the most talented and dynamic backroom in Dallas,…


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