FRISCO, Texas – Back with three quick topics about the Dallas Cowboys heading into an early-season road showdown against the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles (5-0) on Sunday Night Football:
I'm stunned at both the unpredictability and predictability of the Cowboys' first five games.
When Dak Prescott fractured his right thumb on opening night, almost no one outside the locker room expected the Cowboys to win the next four games. That's OK. Logic says it's just not likely without the franchise quarterback. The league is too hard; the games are too close. In the first 80 games, 49 were decided by one score and 27 were decided by a field goal or less.
That's the unpredictable part.
And yet, the Cowboys' formula for their 4-1 start has been so predictable … in a good way:
Game after game, the defense has been an absolute rock for backup Cooper Rush and the offense.
- The Cowboys have not yet allowed a team to reach the 20-point mark this season, the first time a Cowboys defense has held its first five opponents to 19 points or less since 1972.
- Like clockwork, the Cowboys have allowed one touchdown per game for five straight games. The last time a Cowboys defense allowed five or fewer TDs in the first five games: also 1972.
- The defense ranks third in points allowed per game (14.4), behind only the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills (12.2).
- They're second in sacks (20) behind only San Francisco (21).
- They're tied for second in red zone defense and ranked 10th in third down defense (right around 33% conversion rate).
- And the takeaways and run defense are improving. They're now up to seven forced turnovers, not far from the league high (11). The Cowboys also held the Los Angeles Rams to 38 rushing yards in last Sunday's 22-10 victory.
The Eagles will present a different type of test. Philly ranks fourth in rushing (160.0 per game) and have the NFL's best turnover ratio (plus-9). But the Cowboys have found a formula for winning football games.
Predictable? Yes – in the best possible way.
Dorance Armstrong is the Noah Brown of the Cowboys defense.
Brown's emergence as a top-three receiver for Rush this season has finally brought recognition to all the dirty work he's done for the Cowboys since 2017: blocker in the run game, coverage guy on special teams, punt protector, etc. He puts on his hard hat and does whatever's needed. His teammates love him for it.
Same with Armstrong, who joined the Cowboys a year after Brown in a similar role: special teams first.
Last Sunday, he basically spotted Dallas 10 points with a forced fumble on defense and blocked punt on special teams.
Through five games, Armstrong's 4.0 sacks rank second just behind Micah Parsons' 6.0. He has emerged as a starting edge rusher in the first year of a new two-year, $13 million contract after a new deal for Randy Gregory fell apart in March.
And yet Armstrong is still a valuable part of the special teams units for coordinator John Fassel.
That's a rare role in the NFL, and it's finally getting some deserved attention.
I Have No Idea…
if the NFC East is really the best division in football right now.
Could they actually jump all the way to first? On paper, the four NFC East teams began the season with the easiest 2022 schedules due in large part to the division's overall struggles last year (a combined 32-36 record).
Through five games this year, the combined record is a league-best 14-6. Only Washington (1-4) is below .500.
I never expected the Denver Broncos – who added quarterback Russell Wilson to a young roster that shut down Dallas last year – to start 2-3. The Oakland Raiders are one of the most talented 1-4 teams I've ever watched. On the flip side, the Giants (4-1) already matched their 2021 win total with a win over Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers (3-2).
Again … unpredictability.