Nick Eatman is the author of his third book, the recently published ***Friday, Saturday, Sunday in Texas**, a chronicle of three football teams on three levels in Texas, from high school to college to the Cowboys. *
ARLINGTON, Texas – OK, we've officially reached that point in this unexpected season.
Everyone else has already received plenty of praise. By now, we've just come to expect Dak Prescott will play better this week than last. We're expecting Ezekiel Elliott to continue his beast-like ways.
And better yet, we're expecting the Cowboys to win – even though the Las Vegas oddsmakers didn't, and most of the local media beat writers picked against the Cowboys.
But this team is starting to make believers out of everyone, with or without superstar players in the lineup.
So that being said, after the Cowboys dominated the Bengals from start to finish to win their fourth straight game and claim sole possession of first place in the NFC East, it's about time we give credit where credit is due:
The coaching staff is doing an amazing job.
Yes, the coaches – the guys that usually get handed out praise after everyone else – are absolutely making a major difference with this team this year.
Now, maybe this is because I've got a few really good friends in the coaching business, but it's one of the things that bothers me the most about praise/criticism from fans and media. It always seems like good plays are put on the players and bad plays come down to the play call.
Or if the team starts winning games, it's all about the quarterback and his supporting cast. If they struggle, the coaches aren't playing the right guys or don't have them prepared.
Think about it, when do we ever say, Hey, great job by the coaching staff for its clock management? Of course, if Jason Garrett didn't call timeout at the right time, we're usually the first to point it out and belabor the point.
Well, it's time to flip the script.
To me, if anyone is surprised or impressed – or both – about the way this Cowboys team has won games and won them without Dez Bryant and Tony Romo and a few other key players along the way, then you have to credit the staff for the job it has done.
Let's start with preparation. The Cowboys have outscored their opponents 30-7 in the first quarter of games this year. Sure, I remember last week's 7-0 deficit to the 49ers, who pushed it to 14-0 before the Cowboys rallied back.
[embeddedad0]Even in the third quarter of games, coming out of halftime, the Cowboys have outscored opponents 28-23.
The coaches are getting their messages across throughout the week, and even after halftime as well. And it's not only the first quarter, but the opening drive. With a rookie quarterback and running back, and a handful of lineup changes each week, the offense continues to come out nearly flawless on the first drive.
The Cowboys have scored either a touchdown or field goal in four of their five games this year, with the only exception occurring last week in San Francisco when Dan Bailey missed a long field goal attempt. By in large, the Cowboys are coming out hot and setting the tone. Of course, we all know that nothing helps a defense more than having a lead, especially a sizeable one.
But it's not just the fast starts. How about having them with players that aren't used to playing together.
We can go on and on about Prescott … so let's do that. This kid – check that, he's not playing like a kid. He doesn't look like a kid and he's not sounding like one either. OK, so he's 23 years old. That might be a kid to many people, including the guy he's currently replacing, but Dak is playing more like a veteran.
Every single week he gets better. And he hasn't regressed much at all, unless you count taking a sack and losing a fumble in the fourth quarter. Obviously, that's not a good thing, but it didn't hurt them in the long run.
What I loved about his press conference on Sunday was the question about him setting the NFL rookie record to begin a career without an interception. Not only did he give us the standard "records are meant to be broken" line and how he's not thinking about that kind of stuff, but even he acknowledged that he's been close to throwing a few picks this year, so let's not get all crazy about this record.
I like that. He's really, really good, and definitely confident, but also humble at the same time. What a great combination for a quarterback.
But let's give some credit to the coaching staff. Actually, Prescott did that in his press conference as well, when asked about Elliott's 60-yard touchdown run. He praised offensive coordinator Scott Linehan for recognizing outside pressure from the Bengals and calling a run that hurt them right up the middle. Prescott said, "It was a good run and probably a better play call."
Linehan and quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson should be applauded for getting Prescott ready each week. Now, obviously these are the same guys that got Matt Cassel, Brandon Weeden and Kellen Moore "ready" enough to go 1-11 last year in trying to replace Romo.
Just like on defense, Rod Marinelli has done a nice job patching this unit together and getting players such as Anthony Brown to play well in Orlando Scandrick's absence. But I don't think it was a coincidence the defense got a season-best four sacks on Sunday when its best rusher, DeMarcus Lawrence, returned from suspension.
So I fully understand that you can't give every bit of the credit to the coaches. It goes hand-in-hand and both sides are deserving.
But after four straight wins, there's enough credit to go around for everyone.
And I just wanted to make sure the coaching staff got some love, too.
Go behind the lens and view some of our favorite photos from the Bengals vs Cowboys game at AT&T Stadium.