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Mon., Feb. 26, 2018 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM CST
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Sullivan: Reviewing ‘All 3 Phases’ At Midseason Shows No Real Weakness
Halfway home, eight games down, eight games remaining. Cowboys are 5-3 and would be the sixth seed in the NFC playoffs if the season ended today. Could easily be 7-1, one play against the Rams, another against the Packers, and everyone would be thinking they were the class of the league.
The wins have been impressive, each one by double-digits. That victory at Washington looks even better after it beat Seattle on the road. And the Chiefs, wasn’t long ago they were proclaimed as the best team in the NFL. And they still are among the elite; they aren’t going anywhere. It’s just that the Cowboys really are that good. For me, this is the most talented Dallas team in 25 years. Yes, the most talented in 25 years. More than the 1995 Super Bowl champs, more than the 13-win campaigns of 2007 and 2016.
One of Jason Garrett’s favorite Garrettisms is “all three phases.” Let’s take a look at each:
Offense: The Cowboys have scored at least 28 points in six straight games, which ties the franchise mark set previously in 2007. Yes, in 58 seasons, no offense has scored 28 points in seven consecutive games. It would be stunning if Dallas accomplishes just that in Atlanta.
Have been seeing a bunch of midseason award talk, and Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz is the consensus MVP, which is fine and more than deserved. It’s just that Dak Prescott is not being mentioned as even in contention. That’s ignorance of the highest order. This kid is playing as well as any quarterback in the league. He joined Cam Newton as the only QBs in NFL history with 35 passing scores and 10 rushing touchdowns in their first two seasons. Cool stat, right? There’s this, though: Newton threw 40 TDs in his first two seasons. Dak already has 39, and could, should end up in the 50s. Newton also threw 29 interceptions. Dak has thrown 8.
Also this: Dak is on pace this season for 3,636 passing yards, 32 touchdown passes, eight interceptions and eight rushing touchdowns. That’s never been done. The closest anyone has come is Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, who both had the aerial numbers and finished with four rushing scores.
Dak has also taken just 10 sacks, which is tied for the second fewest in the league. Some of that credit goes to the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott picks up the blitz as well as any back in the NFL, but Dak has escaped at least a dozen via his own athleticism and instincts. He’s so much like Tony Romo in that regard.
Speaking of the line, as long as Tyron Smith’s groin doesn’t sideline him, it really has rounded into its 2015-16 form the last month or so. Travis Frederick has been playing at his highest level, which is saying something considering he was a First Team All-Pro selection a season ago. At 26 years old, he really does have a chance at a Hall of Fame career. This will already be his fourth Pro Bowl nod. No reason he can’t finish with double-digits, an All-Decade selection and a gold jacket.
And yes, we’ve come to our weekly we-have-no-earthly-idea-what-is-happening-with-the-Zeke-legal situation, but don’t worry. Alfred Morris should be able to handle an increased workload if need be. And since we’re here, the last 10 times Morris has run the ball he has gained 115 yards. He’s not Zeke, who leads the league among those playing eight games with 97.9 yards per contest, but Morris is a solid pro running behind an elite line.
Like how Dallas is spreading the ball around, too. Dez Bryant leads the team with 439 yards, which ranks 32nd in the league. It’s worth mentioning that he’s also tied for fifth in targets with 75, so obviously Garrett and Scott Linehan need to figure that situation out. Either find easier ways of getting him the football, or talk with Dak about forcing too many balls his way. Bryant probably has three or four passes defensed this season on potential interceptions.
Defense: Sean Lee has never played better. Go back and watch the game again, even if you just fast-forward to the defensive plays. The Chiefs ran 55 plays from scrimmage and took two sacks. On the other 53, I bet Lee either made the tackle or was within a step of where the ball ended. I know he’s made more tackles in games, and he’s had interceptions, but I can’t recall seeing him, or any player, around the ball that often. He also was at the spot Kansas City was running its play five times before the offensive player or the ball was. The anticipation was otherworldly.
The sack streak ended for DeMarcus Lawrence, but he made quite an impact with four hurries, a QB hit, and he was responsible for a couple of false-start flags. David Irving, who for the most part still has no idea what he’s doing with technique, added three tackles and a sack. There’s no way he’s not making the Pro Bowl despite missing the first four games.
The Cowboys are tied for first in the league with 15 forced fumbles and seven recoveries. Their 27 sacks are third. Only five Dallas defenses since sacks have become a statistic in 1982 have tallied more sacks the first half of the season. Doomsday has returned. Since the bye week, the Cowboys are allowing 12 points per game. Heck, even with giving up 112 points to Denver, Los Angeles and Green Bay, Dallas still ranks 15th in scoring average.
Special teams: The coverage units have been spectacular. Kavon Frazier had a huge hit on a punt return, James Hanna another. For the season, the Cowboys are allowing 4.5 yards per punt return, which is fifth best in the league. Chris Jones has mastered angular punting. Opponents have returned just 13 of 31 boots this season.
Mike Nugent has been solid in place of Dan Bailey, too.
Just reviewing “all three phases” makes you realize, there’s really not a weakness. Sure, everyone would love Dez to be racking up more yards or more interceptions from the secondary, there’s always room for improvement. Here and now, though, when talking about Super Bowl contenders, the Cowboys are pretty high on that list.
Lot of football remaining. Should be a fun few months ahead.