INGLEWOOD, California – If you listen carefully you can still hear Matthew Stafford praying, the latest in a growing list of opposing quarterbacks who have felt the wrath of the Dallas Cowboys defense, sacked a total of five times on Sunday and hurried/pressured into oblivion. It's a unit that has now allowed only five touchdowns through the first five weeks after downing the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, and Dorance Armstrong is one of many key reasons why.
The former fourth-round pick entered the 2022 season, the fifth of his NFL career after getting the nod from the Cowboys in 2018, as one of the most unheralded pass rushers on the team, but that's a narrative that he's cutting off at the knees right before our eyes.
It was evident what the mission was for Armstrong and the defense at SoFi Stadium: to punish Stafford early and have him rattled for the entire four quarters of football.
"That's what he hold our head on," said Armstrong after the game. "That's our mindset every week. We want to be able to start fast and set the tempo."
His sack fumble against Stafford in the first quarter led to a scoop-and-score by DeMarcus Lawrence for the game's first touchdown, and all Armstrong did for an encore was block a punt on the subsequent drive by the Rams. It's the second time in Armstrong's career achieved this feat, the first being in November of last season against the Atlanta Falcons - now being only the second player in the NFL to do it since 1982.
His play set the tone early for the Cowboys, one they carried all the way to a 22-10 victory that was punctuated in the end with an interception by safety Malik Hooker and a game-sealing sack fumble by Micah Parsons - recovered by rookie second-round pick Sam Williams.
"We put in a lot of work," said Armstrong. "It's not just another offseason. It's the work we've put in to be able to have the success that we're having."
The operative word here is "success", of course, but even that feels like an understatement when describing what the Cowboys defense is doing; and particularly Armstrong, who now has four sacks and two special teams blocks (one field goal and the aforementioned punt against the Rams) through the first five games.
As for the two blocked kicks, Armstrong prides himself on impacting that phase of the game as well.
"I absolutely [take pride in that]," he said. "I've been playing special teams since I got in the league. I don't wanna stop now."
Additionally, if not for a penalty in the secondary versus the New York Giants in Week 3 that deleted what would've been his second sack on the evening, Armstrong would have five this season, and his pressures are second on the team to only Parsons and Lawrence. And with the five sacks on Stafford, the Cowboys defense now has 20 on the season through the first five games, the first time since they've produced that many this quickly since the days of Tom Landry during the 1987 season.
With that type of production, and with it coming from seemingly every player at all three levels of the defense - be it sacks and/or pressures and/or interceptions and/or forced fumbles (and recoveries), who exactly is carrying the crown as "The Him" on Dan Quinn's defense?
"Everybody is him," said Armstrong. "If it's not the same guy this week, it's a new guy. That's the good thing about our defense - we've got guys that can actually go."
As the Cowboys now head home to prepare to visit the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles in Week 6, they'll have their hands full with Jalen Hurts and Co., but it's also true that Hurts will have his hands full with them - facing a unit that's now shut down Tom Brady, Joe Burrow and Matthew Stafford.
So, are the Cowboys the best defense in the league?
"Absolutely," said Armstrong.
Argue that at your own peril.