FRISCO, Texas – When a team has won four straight games like this one, there should be enough praise to go around for everyone.
But inevitably, there are always a handful of guys getting the most attention, and that’s just the nature of the beast.
Ezekiel Elliott is nearly leading the NFL in rushing and he’s arguably the most valuable player on this team. Amari Cooper has certainly helped this offense get back on track, and even the quarterback, Dak Prescott, has played much better in the last month, at least quieting some of his harshest critics – for the moment.
On defense, what else can we say about DeMarcus Lawrence, Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith? All three of them are playing out of their minds right now and have taken this defense to another level, a level good enough to absolutely stomp the best offense in the league and the hottest team in football.
But let’s dig a little deeper than that.
There are plenty of other players who have raised their game here recently, and for one reason or another, just seem to get overlooked.
I’ve got three guys here – I probably could’ve picked about eight or nine – but here my choices for a trio of players who deserve big props for this team’s recent turnaround.
1. Tyrone Crawford – For more reasons than one, Crawford deserves to be mentioned as one of the team’s best overall players. Not just for his play on the field, which we will get to in a moment, but also for the leadership he provides behind the scenes. Along with D-Law, Crawford has really established his vocal presence, both for the defense and for the entire team. But specifically on defense, the attitude seems to be that this is a unit that is fighting for respect and will do whatever it takes to get it. That’s basically Crawford’s personal mantra as well and he’s been fighting for that his entire career. But he’s not just a leader. Crawford is playing the best football of his life right now. He gets overshadowed up front by Lawrence, but only because of the sacks. Crawford is a presence in the middle of that line – a spot that has been hit hard by injuries. Through it all, Crawford has been a mainstay. He’s not only second on the team with 4.5 sacks, but ranks second in QB pressures with 22, only five behind Lawrence. That’s pretty amazing considering most of his rushes start in the middle of the line.
2. Joe Looney – Obviously, this offensive line has taken a step back this year. Dak is on pace to be sacked more than any Cowboys QB in franchise history. But there are certainly tons of reasons why this is happening. For the most part, it’s not because of the center. Who would’ve thought the Cowboys could get this kind of consistent play from a backup center, but Joe Looney has more than held up nicely in the middle of the line. Is he Travis Frederick? No, he’s not and he’d be the first to admit it. But you really can’t find more than a handful of plays this year where Looney has missed an assignment or had a penalty that hurt the team. In fact, Looney has been flagged just once this year for 10 yards. To compare, the starting tackles, La’el Collins (10) and Tyron Smith (4), have 14 penalties combined. Rookie guard Connor Williams also has four penalties this year as well. Looney has never really gotten the chance to be a full-time starter but he’s proving that he can handle it. Go back and watch Zeke’s touchdown catch vs. New Orleans last week. It doesn’t happen if Looney doesn’t hustle over there and blast the defender off the ball. Looney isn’t just a fun, happy-go-lucky guy that makes you laugh. He’s a really good player and he’s proving it every week.
3. Anthony Brown – This one could go to several other players, but I picked Brown not because of what he is, but more about what he isn’t. Brown isn’t a liability for the defense and considering he’s the third corner and sometimes the fourth depending on the scheme, that says a lot. Just go back and think about the Cowboys’ games here recently. The opponents have all had a guy the Cowboys have been able to pick on. In last week’s case, it was a starting cornerback in Eli Apple, a former first-round pick. But the Cowboys really don’t have that guy. In fact, Brown has made a huge play in each of the last two wins. Against Washington, he had a sack and interception and then had a big sack for loss against the Saints when the momentum was clearly shifting toward the visiting team. Brown not only provides a steady player – he also has just one penalty this year – who can make some plays on the ball, he’s just another role player in a defense that might be the best in the NFL right now.
So those are my three. I could’ve written this column three more times with different players being mentioned. But that just goes to show how many helping hands it takes to turn things around the way the Cowboys have here in the last month.