The Cowboys are 1-1 after a big win over the Chargers. There were a lot of developments that stemmed from that game in LA, including the development of Micah Parsons, Tony Pollard and so much more.
Here are some of my thoughts in my head as the Cowboys get into a Week 3 matchup with the Eagles.
The Cowboys' original recipe still works.
Since the 2010s, the Cowboys' winning formula has consisted of a strong running game, stingy defense, and timely playmaking from the quarterback. This has been the team's recipe for success when it claimed NFC East titles in 2014, 2016, and 2018. And it remains the best approach for a team that has playoff aspirations in 2021.
Despite an offense that features a collection of all-star-caliber playmakers, the Cowboys are _really _a run-oriented team built around their beefy offensive line and talented ball carriers. The frontline's ability to move defenders off the ball enables runners to find creases on the way to picking up first downs or scoring touchdowns.
This recipe has served the Cowboys well during the Dak Prescott era with the team sporting a 32-4 mark in games in which rush the ball 30-plus times, including wins in 15 of their last 16 games surpassing that total.
Part of the team's success utilizing the run-heavy formula can be attributed to dominating time of possession to minimize the number of plays the defense is on the field. By playing fewer snaps, the defense is fresher and better able to close out games in the fourth quarter.
Although the Cowboys only control the clock for 29:03, they limited the Chargers to only 62 offensive plays and keep Justin Herbert on the sidelines. If the Cowboys can continue to shrink the game with a balanced approach that skews more towards the run, the Ws could pile up over the next few weeks.
Two RBs are better than one.
There is a little debate brewing in the social media world regarding the Cowboys' running back situations. The voices in the back are suggesting the team needs to replace Ezekiel Elliott with Tony Pollard as the lead back. While I understand the statistics suggest that backup is outperforming the starter, the Cowboys would make a serious mistake by opting for an "either-or" approach instead of figuring out how to play Pollard and Elliott as a tandem.
Studying the All-22 game tape, the Cowboys are getting key contributions from each player. Elliott is excelling in pass protection and churning out solid runs as a rugged runner between the tackles. The veteran runner has not exploded for a big run but he has been a productive "grinder" as the lead runner in the rotation.
Pollard has provided an explosive element to the offense as a dynamic weapon in the backfield. From his ability to turn the corner on jet sweeps to his stop-start quickness in the hole on inside runs, the third-year pro gives the Cowboys' offense a little juice when he is on the field. As a change of pace back, he enables Kellen Moore to take advantage of defenders who are punch drunk tackling a bigger back in Elliott.
That's why the Cowboys need to resist the urge to flip the rotation to give Pollard the leading role. He has more value as a complementary player with big-play ability than shouldering a heavier load as the lead back.
Dan Quinn is working miracles on defense.
Hats off to DQ for finding a way to play solid defense with players shuttling in and out of the starting lineup due to various injury or COVID issues. The grizzled defensive coordinator has handled it all in stride while making tweaks and adjustments to his game plans and substitution patterns on the fly.
Against the Chargers, Quinn found a way to generate a pass rush without his top defenders on the field. He moved his all-star rookie to an EDGE position and unleashed him on an unsuspecting offensive line that was ill-prepared to deal with his combination of speed, strength, and power.
In addition, Quinn has pumped Trevon Diggs with enough confidence and swagger to occupy a role as the team's CB1. Moreover, he has convinced the young corner that he is a "shutdown" defender with eraser capabilities.
With Jaylon Smith and others playing well after struggling mightily in 2020, the ultra-positive leader has seemingly done the impossible by transforming the Cowboys' sagging defense into a competitive unit with a few months of work.
Micah Parsons might be the Cowboys' best pass rusher.
Scouts certainly knew about Parsons' disruptive potential as an explosive linebacker with sideline-to-sideline range and big play-ability. But no one expected the rookie to show elite pass-rushing skills as an EDGE defender.
Sure, Parsons was a five-star recruit as a defensive end in high school but it has been years since he has played with his hand in the dirt as a full-timer. Although the Cowboys allowed the rookie to rush from a stand-up position on critical downs, the consistent disruption created by No.11 should make the coaches consider permanently utilizing the rookie as an EDGE defender.
I know he was not drafted to be a defensive end, but Parsons' mercurial talents should make the Cowboys feature him prominently in the pass rush as a wild card rusher in sub-packages. Whether it is as a pass rusher coming from depth or as an EDGE player attacking quarterbacks from a three-point stance or stand-up position, No.11 needs to feature as the team's No.1 pass rusher after registering eight pressures and a sack in an impromptu role on Sunday.
Mike McCarthy needs to work on his game management skills
The one-time Super Bowl winner has a great resume as a head coach but he makes some baffling decisions each week. McCarthy has struggled with game management/clock management issues and his bone head decisions will eventually cost the Cowboys a critical game.
Against the Chargers, McCarthy mismanaged the clock during the game-winning drive. Despite having plenty of time to get the ball deeper into Greg Zuerlein's range, the Cowboys failed to run another play as the offense looked unsure of what to do with the clocking ticking. While the veteran split the uprights on the 56-yard field goal attempt, the odds of knocking down 50-plus yarders do not favor the kicking team, particularly with a kicker nursing an offseason injury.
The veteran head coach also deserves a reprimand for failing to veto John Fassel's punt return block prior to halftime. The roughing the kicker penalty extended the Chargers' drive with a 15-yard gift from an overaggressive defender. Although the Chargers failed to convert the extra plays into points (missed a 44-yard field goal attempt), the decision to make a high-risk, high-reward is a silly one and it almost proved costly in the end.
In a league that is frequently decided by eight points or fewer, McCarthy's odd choices could keep the Cowboys from realizing their long-term potential.