Dallas Cowboys v Los Angeles Rams
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Dallas is doing everything right, and it’s time to witness them.

Week 5 is more or less in the books, and hell has frozen over. I’m sitting here on a Sunday night wondering why we haven’t been talking more about the Dallas Cowboys.

That “we” has no target, it’s a royal “we” — and unless you live in Texas the discussion around the team has more or less been relegated to ponding which poorly-run team will throw the farm at Cooper Rush in free agency next season. Those jokes are funny, sure, and the correct answer is the Carolina Panthers, but there’s far more to talk about when it comes to Dallas. With it the dawning realization that they might be the best coached team in the NFL this season.

I know that sounds preposterous, because Mike McCarthy has never been hailed as a mastermind. He’s more likely to win a Kevin James lookalike contest than another coach of the year award — but that’s the last you’ll hear me dunk on him today. The entire coaching staff, top to bottom, has done incredible things under more adversity than any other organization in the NFL so far. It’s a triumph, and at 4-1 you best believe we need to dive into this further and hand out some flowers.

The excuse was built in. It was constructed Week 1. When Dak Prescott injured his thumb in the season opener against Tampa Bay, requiring surgery and keeping him out at least six weeks, the expectation was that Dallas would go 0-5 until he was back — and that thinking wasn’t ridiculous. Here was a team that already had offensive line as a question mark entering the season, which quickly became a massive red flag when All Pro left tackle Tyron Smith was placed on IR. Now they lost their franchise QB, turning the offense (at least on paper) into what felt destined to be a hopeless backup offering no threat, while Ezekiel Elliot ran into a brick wall for a month and a half.

It was supposed to turn Dallas into a punchline. A footnote. An endless joke why a the NFL would subject us to a team this bad on a weekly primetime basis. Except, that never materialized. The reductive answer is to pivot this into a tale of triumph from Cooper Rush, but the reality is a defense that has been damn-near unbeatable, and an offense that hasn’t made mistakes. It’s the beauty of football, the simplicity — an old school approach that simply asks all three phases to work in concert without and one costing the Cowboys a chance to win. At a time where every coach in the NFL seems to be getting too cute and overthinking the process, Dallas are being boring as hell, and it’s working.

Normally I like to discuss offense, then defense, because it feels like the natural flow of the NFL — but not here. The Cowboys’ defense deserves to be front and center, because it’s why this team is winning. Dan Quinn has worked absolute wonders by being tasked with leading an aggressive, opportunistic defense that can turn the tides of games — he’s achieving at a higher level than any coordinator in the league.

It begins with this team bending, but rarely breaking. As it stands the Cowboys are allowing points on 31.4 percent of drives, putting them in the Top 10 in the league in scoring drives. However, it’s even better than that — because Dallas has only given up five touchdowns this season, total. Only the 49ers and Bills are allowing fewer points, and keep in mind that 19 of the Cowboys’ 72 points allowed across five games came to the Buccaneers in the season opener when everything collapsed. Since that point Quinn’s defense is only giving up 13.25 points per game.

This is the heart of what makes the Cowboys tick so far. This is an organization that understands Rush isn’t going to be able to put the game on his shoulder and burn up defenses, so they have to create their own destiny. In this case it’s manifesting by asking the offense to score two touchdowns, that’s it, and if it’s achieved they’ll win. Simple football. There are three factors that are allowing this to happen:

  1. Sensible pressure: The Cowboys rank 2nd in the NFL in sacks, and 1st in QB knockdowns — despite being 20th in blitz percentage.
  2. Punishing risks: Dallas is tied for 2nd in 4th down conversions allowed.
  3. Winning the turnover battle: Dallas has forced seven takeaways while only allowing one this season.

Dallas is making teams to play their game. The defense is dismantling their opponent’s offensive game plan, then they’re simply not giving them a chance to do the same. Rush and the rest of the offense have not turned the ball over once in the past four weeks, leading to these wins.

Outside of the Commanders, there hasn’t really been a gimme on this schedule. Put the loss to Tampa aside, because it’s not really indicative of this team. So far the Cowboys have beaten the Giants (4-1), the Bengals (2-3) and the Rams (2-3). We don’t need to pretend these are world-beating organizations, but they’re much better than a team without its franchise QB and left tackle should be dispatching. That’s a testament to the coaching staff.

It’s here we need to approach the elephant in the room, because it’s going to be the story for Dallas moving forward: What happens with Dak is healthy? It’s simple — you play him. Let’s not overthink this and be dumb. Everything in the NFL when it comes to the QB position is looking at the “ways to win” the passer provides.

There really is only one more when it comes to Cooper Rush: The defense makes its stops, and he doesn’t turn the ball over. That is the absolute ceiling for the Cowboys with Rush taking snaps.

Prescott provides vastly more avenues to victory. He can throw deeper, move the ball faster in two minute drills, and has athleticism Rush doesn’t. However, that comes with a caveat: The Cowboys need to stay boring. They cannot let Dak return and immediately forget what got them to this point. Play the possession game, don’t let teams score, and be comfortable having Dak only take what’s being given to him, unless the defense falters and he has to make plays with his arm.

If Dallas can keep this even-keeled offensive approach while integrating Prescott back into the offense they are a Super Bowl caliber team in the NFC. There aren’t many better right now. Huge winners this week in Dallas.

Winner: The rest of the NFC East too

I can’t believe we’re looking at the NFC East being the best division in football, and it’s not even close. The Eagles are 5-0, the Cowboys and Giants are 4-1 — while the Commanders are still playing football on a weekly basis.

Seriously, we’re seeing the most consistency, coaching genius, and schematic understanding all coming out of the NFC East once again. We haven’t seen this since Eli Manning, Donovan McNabb, and Tony Romo were playing in the division. It’s just hilarious that this time it’s Daniel Jones, Jalen Hurts, and Cooper Rush.

Loser: Zac Taylor

Remember when I said the Cowboys were winning by not being cute? On the other end of the spectrum we have Zac Taylor, who has someone found a way to manage being boring and cute at the same time.

What defined Cincinnati in 2021 was this carefree, go-for-it attitude that had a young team playing loose and fun football. That’s gone now. Taylor is coaching scared, calling the plays himself like a guy who is desperate for the Bengals not to lose, not actively trying to win. It’s pathetic.

I don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes, but he needs to get this together and take the clipboard out of his hands. It’s destroying one of the most exciting, dynamic offenses in the NFL and making the Bengals into a reflection of their coach: Nervous and scared.

Anyone who does this to a team with this much promise should be on the hot seat. I don’t care whether you made the Super Bowl last year or not.

Loser: Matt Rhule

I don’t need to explain why this guy sucks. I’ll let him do it.

Winner: Everyone who forgot to bench Austin Ekeler this week

Every year there’s that one fantasy player who is irrationally at the top of boards who people draft solely because they pop up in the “Best Available” list for their fantasy team. Enter Austin Ekeler.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like he’s bad, but rather that Justin Herbert is so good, and his top two receivers are so good that I didn’t understand where the carries were coming from to back up the lofty “Top 5” ranking he was getting for a player whose never rushed for 1,000 yards.

So for weeks Ekeler owners had every right to bench him. If you forgot, congratulations. He went off this week for 173 yards rushing, a touchdown and another in the receiving game. Now just be wary if you keep him in and he falls back to earth again.

Winner: This Ravens fan who I am convinced is Eric Wareheim

Loser: This poor guy who had to endure the fans in front of him all game long

Be sensitive about your wig, folks.

Winner: Breece Hall

I became obsessed with Hall in the Pre Draft process, and it’s cool seeing that belief pay off. It’s taken some time, but the Dophins had NO ANSWER for the Jets’ rookie, allowing him to finish with 197 all-purpose yards and demolishing them in both phases.

Hall is going to be a PROBLEM in the NFL when he can put it all together on a weekly basis.

Loser: The Lions

What the hell was that?

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