The Cowboys' four-game winning streak has catapulted the team back into the discussion as a title contender. Mike McCarthy's squad has defied the odds with their franchise quarterback on the shelf and found an identity that works for them as a potential title contender.
After taking a long, hard look at the Cowboys' impressive win over the Rams, here are some thoughts and observations from the mind of a former NFL scout.
Pressure, pressure, pressure
The Cowboys' four-game winning streak has been keyed by an impressive series of performances from the defense. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn attacked the Rams with a game plan that featured a variety of twists, games, stunts, and blitzes that kept Matthew Stafford from finding a rhythm within the pocket.
The Cowboys' aggressive plan resulted in five sacks, three turnovers, and countless pressures on a veteran quarterback who wilted under the constant harassment. Micah Parsons, Demarcus Lawrence, Dorrance Armstrong, Osa Odighhizuwa, Sam Williams, and Damarcus Lawrence were all over the all-star quarterback as the persistent pressure wore down the veteran over four quarters.
Although no one likes to admit to the dirty little secret that exists in today's game, the Cowboys pass rush tests the toughness and courage of every quarterback who faces the ferocious frontline. With DQ finding a formula that results on countless hits and relentless pressure on the quarterback, the Cowboys have been able to keep quarterbacks from finding comfort within the pocket.
Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard are rollin'
The Cowboys' running back tandem has flourished over the past four weeks as offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has established clearly defined roles within the rotation. Elliott is the power back tasked with doing the dirty work between the tackles. He is also a dependable blocker in pass protection, which makes him an indispensable offensive weapon despite his so-called declining skills.
As the Cowboys' leading rusher against the Rams, Elliott ran 22 times for 78 yards (3.5 per rush attempt) while exhibiting old-school toughness as a downhill runner between the tackles. Although the stat line is not impressive at first glance, the cumulative effect of tackling a 220-pound back 20-plus times eventually wears down a defense. Most important, the Cowboys' commitment to running the ball between the tackles set up an efficient play-action passing game and enables the team to dominate the time of possession category.
Pollard is the big play weapon in the backfield with the speed, quickness, and burst to turn the corner on perimeter runs. With the fourth-year pro breaking out on a 57-yard touchdown that showcased his explosiveness in space, the Cowboys have the perfect complement to Elliott in the speedster from Memphis.
Just manage the game
The talking heads can debate whether Cooper Rush is a viable long-term option for the Cowboys, but anyone who closely watches this team should know that the backup quarterback is chalking up wins due to his management skills. While no quarterback wants to be known as a "game manager", the Cowboys' QB2 might carve out a long career as a backup due to his superb management skills as a substitute starter.
Rush has efficiently kept the Cowboys' offense afloat by making sound decisions and avoiding turnovers. Although his approach is not flashy, it works when the rest of the team is executing well on defense and special teams. With the quarterback adhering to solid complementary football principles, the Cowboys have been able to play winning football against the odds.
Micah Parsons is a unicorn
It is way too early to hand out awards, but Micah Parsons should be the odds-on favorite to win the league's top defensive award. The second-year pro is on pace to finish the season with 20-plus sacks and establish himself as the premier defensive player in the game.
That is lofty praise for a player with just 21 career games under his belt, but Parsons shows signs of evolving into a gold jacket player each week. From his impressive skills as a pass rusher to his sideline-to-sideline playmaking skills and his unique coverage ability, the standout defender is a rare find at the position.
Parsons' ridiculous combination of skills reminds some scouts of a young Lawrence Taylor dominating off the edges. Although the Hall of Famer has been the gold standard for elite play as an EDGE defender for the past thirty years, the Cowboys' designated playmaker deserves all the praise and recognition that he has received as one of the most dominant players in the game. If Parsons continues to wreak havoc on foes at this pace, it is going to be hard to deny the comparison in the near future.
The Eagles are the measuring stick
It is hard to imagine a division foe being used as a measuring stick by a team that has owned the division in recent years, but the Cowboys will find out more about their championship potential during their Week 6 battle with the Eagles.
As the league's lone unbeaten squad, the Eagles are rock-solid in each side of the ball with a quarterback playing at an MVP level. The Cowboys must take on the challenge of defending a punishing rushing attack that mixes a variety of gap-scheme runs and option plays that will test the discipline of the Cowboys' defense. In addition, the Eagles' ultra-physical offensive line will challenge the toughness of the Cowboys' front seven.
With AJ Brown and Devonta Smith also posing a huge challenge on the perimeter, the Cowboys will need to bring their A-game on defense to knock off the division leaders.
Offensively, the Eagles' stout defensive line will throw eight different defenders at Ezekiel Elliott and Co. as they attempt to contain the Cowboys' ground attack. The unit's combination of size, strength, and overall nastiness will test the Cowboys' discipline, physicality, and toughness at the line of scrimmage. The unit will also get after Cooper Rush and see if the backup quarterback has the patience and poise to fend off a dynamic pass rush while sorting out the Eagles' coverage.
Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon has morphed from a zone-heavy play caller to a more aggressive man-to-man schemer this season, and the Eagles' ever-changing looks could boggle the young quarterback's mind. In a high-stakes contest with the winner seizing the top spot in the division, the football world will soon find out if the Cowboys are legitimate title contenders.