After spending a couple of days breaking down the Cowboys' Week 4 win over the Commanders, I have a few thoughts and observations on how this team is progressing this season. Here are my thoughts…
Doomsday is back?
Maybe it is too soon to compare this version of the Cowboys' defense to the legendary units of the 1970s, but it is hard to dismiss Micah Parsons' proclamations after watching another dominating performance from Dan Quinn's squad. For the third game in the row, the Cowboys held an opponent to fewer than 17 points and the unit is surrendering just 16 points per game on the season— fourth fewest in the NFL.
Despite the small sample size, this unit certainly possesses the star power to go toe to toe with the units that featured Bob Lilly, Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Randy White, Mel Renfro, Everson Walls, and Cliff Harris. Micah Parsons is a superstar playing with another five-star talent in Trevon Diggs. The duo is one of the best passing rusher-cover corner duos in the league, and they are surrounded by a handful of blue-chip playmakers (Demarcus Lawrence, Dorrance Armstrong, Dante Fowler, and Anthony Barr) with disruptive potential at the point of attack.
With defensive coordinator Dan Quinn utilizing a more aggressive game plan that features more blitzing and exotic games and twists at the line of scrimmage, the Cowboys overwhelm opponents with talent and tactics. Although it will take some time to see if this unit has staying power, it is easy to envision this defense dominating the NFL for a decade like legendary units of the 1970s.
Mike McCarthy is an elite coach
It is impossible to ignore the job that Mike McCarthy has done to keep this team competitive after losing a franchise quarterback in Week 1. The Super Bowl-winning head coach has helped this team find its identity and winning formula in the midst of a chaotic four-game stretch that forced the team to pivot on offense to compensate for the absence of blue-chip players at three of the marquee positions (quarterback, left tackle and No.2 wideout) on offense.
Without Dak Prescott, Tyron Smith, and Michael Gallup (missed the first three games) to start the season, the Cowboys have been able to jump out to a 3-1 and remain in playoff contention due to the clever strategies employed by the coaching staff. While we can give Kellen Moore and Dan Quinn their props for maximizing the potential of their respective units while utilizing complimentary football game plans, the head coach maps out the overall plan and oversees its execution.
Like it or not, McCarthy deserves credit for putting the plan in place and making sure the coaches and players stick to the script. He manages the game from afar and holds everyone accountable for coaching and playing to the standard. Although we do not see him yelling or screaming on the sidelines or calling plays into the headsets, McCarhty is the conductor responsible for the product on the field.
Considering how well the Cowboys are playing while dealing with injuries to key players, the embattled head coach deserves recognition for his work with this squad.
There is no quarterback controversy
Ignore the noise from the national media regarding a potential quarterback controversy between Dak Prescott and Cooper Rush after the backup quarterback chalked up his third straight win of the season.
Although the Cowboys' QB2 has certainly impressed with his poise, confidence, and management skills, he is not the reason this team has been successful to date. The Cowboys have put "Ws" in the win column due to a philosophical shift that has prioritized playing "complementary football" over stat gouging on game day.
The offense has committed to a ball-control approach that features a smash-mouth running game and low-risk aerial attack that is designed to minimize turnovers and risky plays. With the defense playing well, the Cowboys are simply instructing their quarterback to manage the game (avoid turnovers, get the offense into the proper play calls/protections, and stay ahead of the chains with smart decisions in the passing game) while making a handful of plays each week.
The call sheet features a small menu of simple drop-backs and play-action passes that are Day 1 installation plays around the league. To his credit, Rush has shown the patience, discipline, and awareness to take the easy completion instead of attempting a "hero" throw that puts the ball in harm's way. As a result, the Cowboys' offense has avoided the turnovers and mistakes that undermine the team's chances of winning.
With that in mind, the thought of Rush replacing Prescott as the team's long-term QB1 is laughable. Prescott is more talented in every aspect and has played elite football throughout his tenure (check his stats). While Rush deserves credit for being a capable fill-in at the position, the thought of replacing No.4 is simple a hot take segment for a TV show.
Michael Gallup returns
So far, so good for the fifth-year pro returning from a season-ending knee injury. Gallup made immediate contributions to a passing game that missed his speed and playmaking ability at the beginning of the season.
Although his stat line was not impressive (two catches, 24 yards, and a score), the veteran consistently won his one-on-one matchups on the outside and created enough separation to create easier throws for the quarterback. Gallup showed no ill-effects from the knee as he burst in and out of breaks, and made hard cuts at the top of his routes.
With the veteran showing confidence and trust in his legs while running the route tree with the speed and burst that we are accustomed to seeing from No.13, the Cowboys passing game should continue to improve as he settles in and reclaims his role as the team's deep ball specialist on the perimeter.
Great teams take care of business when they play inferior opponents. The Cowboys showed outstanding maturity in dispatching an overmatched Commanders' squad at home. From the opening snap to the final buzzer, the Cowboys controlled the game and did not give the visitors any cheap plays that enabled their division rivals to steal a win on the road.
While it is frequently uttered in locker rooms that more games are lost than won, it is hard to get teams to master the art of winning games by avoiding the "DBOs" (Don't Beat Ourselves) that compromise winning. If a team can avoid turnovers, allowing big plays, and egregious penalties, they will win the overwhelming majority of their games. The Cowboys excelled in each of those areas (zero turnovers, four big plays allowed, and four penalties for minus-20 yards) and chalked up a win as a result.
If this team can continue to show the maturity to dominate in each of those areas while maintaining their focus against inferior opponents, the Cowboys will have a chance at winning the division and making a deep post-season run with a blue-collar team that plays the right way.