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5 Bucks: Zeke Needs His Respect; Replacing Jaylon

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The Cowboys are sitting pretty atop of the NFC East with a 4-1 mark. The team's hot start has led to some Super Bowl hype that has Cowboys' fans envisioning a Lombardi Trophy heading to Big D. While it is too early to focus on the playoffs and what it would take for Jerry Jones and Co. to add another ring to the collection, the Cowboys' sizzling streak certainly has made them a legitimate contender in the NFC.

Given some time to check out their most recent game against the Giants, here are some thoughts and observations:

Cowboys' offense: Pick your poison?

When Cowboys' coaches and players started discussing the possibility of fielding an offense with the capacity to produce explosive plays on the ground or through the air, I wondered if offensive coordinator Kellen Moore had the discipline, patience, and expertise needed to craft balanced game plans.

Through five games, the Cowboys are punishing defensive play-callers for their poor choices and questionable game plans. The team ranks second in total offense (439.6) behind a punishing ground attack that averages 172.8 rush yards per game—second-most in the NFL.

With Dak Prescott and Co. capable of putting up big numbers through the air, opponents have been unable to come up with an effective plan that neutralizes the Cowboys' most explosive playmakers.

The Giants got a little taste on Sunday with the Cowboys putting up a 40-burger while rolling up over 500 yards of offense. The offense featured a 300-yard passer and a 100-yard rusher with three different players hitting pay dirt. Considering five different players finished with at least 60 scrimmage yards, the Cowboys' balanced approach and distribution plan gave another defensive coordinator a three-hour headache on game day.

Put some respect on Zeke's name

The haters do not want to hear this but Zeke is as good as ever as the Cowboys' RB1. The two-time rushing champ has posted back-to-back 100-yard games and was only a few yards shy of hitting triple digits on the ground in three straight contests.

Elliott's resurgence has not only quieted the critics who were calling for his benching earlier in the season, but it has confirmed his status as an elite runner. The veteran remains the most complete running back in the game, and it is hard to find another back with the capacity to earn high marks as a runner, receiver, and blocker in today's game.

Against the Giants, Elliott showed off his all-around game with 100-plus rushing yards on an assortment of runs that showcased his power, balance, body control, and vision. In addition, the veteran showed his soft hands and receiving skills on a swing pass that featured a little high-stepping into the end zone.

With Elliott continuing to crush blitzing linebackers in the pocket, the veteran remains one of the best triple threats in the league.

DQ transforms the defense

It is hard to believe the Cowboys' defense was one of the worst units in the league a season ago after watching this group play in 2021. This Cowboys' defense plays with great effort and energy, while also displaying the physicality and toughness that elite units show each week.

The dramatic improvement has been aided by an influx of hard-working defenders committed to playing together but the leader of the unit has created an environment that enables them to thrive. From the scheme to the instruction to the high level of accountability, Quinn and his staff have raised the bar for a unit that was the weakest link in 2020.

Watching the defense work throughout training camp, I thought the unit would play better but I had no idea the defense would become a turnover machine. However, Quinn has transformed this defense into a ball-hawking crew who are obsessed with taking the ball away. Through hustle, awareness, and instincts, the Cowboys have forced the second-most turnovers in the league (12) while snagging an NFL-best 10 interceptions.

Considering how turnovers impact the game, Quinn's cultural changes have produced a savage unit that is rounding into form as a title contender.

Life without Jaylon Smith

The recent release of former Pro Bowl linebacker Jaylon Smith created quite the buzz on various social media feeds but the move opened up the door for the Cowboys to put more athletes on the field.

Micah Parsons, Leighton Vander Esch, Keanu Neal, and Jabril Cox stepped into expanded roles without No.9 on the field. Parsons and LVE were already positioned in prominent roles as starters but Neal and Cox are better positioned to get onto the field in sub-packages. Although Neal and LVE were on the field for around half of the Cowboys' defensive snaps against the Giants, those numbers will likely fluctuate based on matchups each week.

Cox will serve as an apprentice to the veterans while earning playing time as a special teams contributor until an opportunity arises for the rookie to crack the rotation. Keep an eye on him as the wild card with the potential to make a big impact during the second half of the season.

Overall, the removal of Smith did not have a significant impact on the defense's performance but it could make the unit better equipped to handle playoff opponents down the road with better athletes on the field.

Eyes on the prize

The Cowboys' hot start has led to Super Bowl hype throughout the fan base but it appears the team has blocked out the noise to remain focused on improving each week. From Mike McCarthy to the team's top leaders, the conversation has centered on paying closer attention to details to give the team a chance to play its best football down the stretch.

From my vantage point, the focus and maturity displayed by the Cowboys is impressive for a team that has underachieved in the past when saddled with lofty expectations. The commitment and accountability is refreshing and suggests this team has the proper mentality to check off some of the goals on their checklist.

Considering McCarthy and Quinn have experience with Super Bowl teams, the Cowboys appear to have the pieces in place to _finally _make a run at a ring.

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