With football season inching towards the midpoint, the Cowboys are beginning to embrace their identity as a blue-collar squad built around a stifling defense and punishing running game. Although the passing game is certainly dangerous with Dak Prescott tossing to a handful of playmakers with big play potential, the Cowboys are emerging as a potential Super Bowl contender due to a complementary football approach that accentuates their strengths while masking their biggest weaknesses.
After watching the team take advantage of a "get right" game against the Detroit Lions, here are some thoughts and observations from a former NFL scout.
Dak is back
Whenever a player misses significant time due to injury, there is always a concern that rust will mar his game when he returns. Although Prescott was far from perfect while completing 19 of 25 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown, he tossed the ball around the yard with razor-sharp precision. Considering he was recovering from a thumb injury that could have impacted his grip on the ball, the accuracy and pinpoint ball placement on the majority of his throws suggests that he could quickly regain his all-star form with more reps in the coming weeks.
As the Cowboys transition from the pass-first offense that led the NFL in yards and points in 2021 to a more balanced outfit that features a dominant running game and complementary aerial attack, Prescott will need to be efficient and effective with a smaller pitch count. if he can thrive in his role as a high-end "game manager" in this offense, the Cowboys could chalk up a lot of wins and make a deep playoff run with No.4 at the helm.
Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard are a perfect combination
Running back by committee situations is the standard in the NFL, but few teams have a combination of skills that complete the backfield puzzle like the Cowboys. Elliott is the old-school "thumper" who excels at picking up the tough yards between the tackles. The former NFL rushing champ has lost a step but he makes up for his lack of explosion with grit, toughness, and determination. Elliott's physicality and "dawg" mentality sets the tone for an offense that has become more run-centric over the past month.
Pollard is the dazzling playmaker that every backfield needs. The fourth-year pro is a big play waiting to happen with a combination of speed, quickness, and burst that enables him to slip through cracks and creases on the perimeter. As an explosive open-field runner with soft hands and some wiggle, Pollard is a dangerous offensive weapon as a multi-purpose playmaker in the backfield. With another 100-yard scrimmage game (83 rush yards; 26 receiving yards) in the books, the Cowboys' RB2 adds a dimension to the lineup as a change of pace back.
Sam Williams makes some noise
The former Ole Miss standout has been flashing big play ability since the preseason, but Week 7 should be recognized as Sam Williams' coming out party. The rookie pass rusher dominated the action with a three-tackle, two-sack performance that also included a fumble recovery. Williams' speed, quickness and burst jump off of the screen when studying the tape, but it is his toughness and tenacity that gives him a chance to be a star on this defense. As an ornery defender with bad boy attitude, the rookie is not afraid to toe the line as one of the bullies on the block, as evidenced by his body slam of Lions' running back Justin Jackson.
Given Williams' production and disruption in limited action, Dan Quinn and Co. need to find a way to give No.54 more reps as he emerges as a potential key contributor down the stretch this season.
The Cowboys' pass rush is heating up
It is not a coincidence that the Cowboys are playing great defense with a pass rush that is emerging as one of the best in the league. The collection of frontline talent that Jerry Jones has assembled and Dan Quinn has unleashed makes this Cowboys' defense downright scary. The combination of Micah Parsons, Demarcus Lawrence, Dorrance Armstrong, Dante Fowler, and Anthony Barr overwhelm opponents with their blue-chip talents while creating opportunities for others (SEE: Donovan Wilson and Sam Willams) to make plays when opponents are overly concerned with the stars.
Quinn has worked his magic with the group while mixing and matching rotations to keep a fresh set of pass rushers on the field in key situations. The pass-rushing wizard has added more line movement (twists, stunts, and games) to the defensive plan while sprinkling in a few blitzes to guarantee more one-on-one opportunities for his top pass rushers. With five sacks against the Lions pushing the Cowboys' season total to 29 sacks—most in the NFL, the talent and tactics are working well in Big D.
CeeDee Lamb is settling in as WR1
Despite being the Cowboys' top producer in the passing game over the past few years, CeeDee Lamb is adjusting to his new role as the No.1 option in the passing game.
As the Cowboys' WR1, the third-year pro is expected to put up big numbers despite facing a variety of defensive tactics designed to limit his impact as a playmaker. After some initial struggles this season, Lamb has adjusted to the extra attention and continued to produce like a solid No.1 pass catcher on the perimeter. He is on pace to finish with 90 receptions, 1,163 yards and five touchdowns on 160 targets, per ESPN Stats, which would match Amari Cooper's production from his best years with the team.
Cooper finished posted a pair of 1,100-yard seasons in 2019 and 2020 on 171 catches (85.5 catches per year) with 13 combined touchdowns. Considering Lamb's supporting cast lacks the experience and star power from the previous seasons. the third-year pro's production as a No.1 receiver suggests that he is progressing nicely as the team's top option in the passing game.