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Mick Shots: Defense Waking Up Ghosts Of Past


FRISCO, Texas – Some things don't need to be pointed out. We just know.

We just know the Cowboys defense has jumped off to a great start, holding their first three opponents to begin this 2022 season to 19 points, then 17 and 16. Those rambunctious guys have only yielded three touchdowns.

The Cowboys rank eighth in points allowed with 52. They rank first in sacks with 13 and first in sacks per play, which has them second in net passing yards per play and fourth in net passing yards per game.

But this one would have never guessed. Thanks to the PR staff, on the front page of the Dallas Cowboys weekly game release, in the BY THE NUMBERS section with three of those listed weekly, there was this, "19."

Huh, 19?

And it reads: The Cowboys have held all three of their 2022 opponents to 19 or fewer points, the first time Dallas has held an opponent under 20 points in the first three games of a season since …

1974, like 48 years ago.

Say what? Seventy-four, with all the great defenses this team has produced, ranked 16 times in the top 5, five of those No. 1 over the franchise's previous 62 seasons?

Indeed. The Cowboys began that 1974 season beating Atlanta, 24-0, then losing to Philly, 13-10, and losing to the Giants, 14-6. They would lose their next two games, too, getting off to a 1-4 start on their way to an 8-6 season, missing the playoffs for the first time since that 8-8 year in 1965, the expansion franchise's first non-losing season.

But to accomplish that feat, holding the first three opponents to no more than the 19 points – and that year no more than 14 – the Cowboys were trotting out on that defense future Hall of Famers Bob Lilly, Mel Renfro and Cliff Harris, along with such notables as Lee Roy Jordan, Charlie Waters, Cornell Green, D.D. Lewis, Jethro Pugh, Larry Cole and Dave Edwards.

Yet this team, with just four Pro Bowlers, has accomplished what no other defense in the previous 47 seasons has.

"Having different guys with different roles, that's what I love most about this group," defensive coordinator Dan Quinn says. "They are unselfish, they love to battle for one another. And we're going to keep pushing us hard to our standard of where we can get to. I think we have a lot of room to grow, and that's what we'll be pushing the guys on this week."

Push hard coach, because truth be known, the 1973 Cowboys defense pushed the less-than-20 to four straight and the 1972 group pushed it to five straight. But those all were _shot_ down in 1968 and 1969 when the Cowboys began those years giving up less than 20 points in six straight games to start the season.

Yep, got a ways to go, and you can't get to six unless getting to four this Sunday against Washington.

But back then, them were the "Doomsday" days.

  • More Turpin time: Who would have thunk two months ago that Cowboys rookie returner/wide receiver KaVontae Turpin would be leading the NFL after three games with a 16.3 punt return average. Remember, this kid came out of virtually nowhere when the Cowboys signed him during training camp on July 28. But now, Turpin has made such an impact on opposing teams that they have given him only five opportunities to return kickoffs and just four punts. Especially the punts, they are either kicking away from him, hanging 'em high or trying to pin him on the sideline. "I felt like I had their attention when I did that with the Chargers," says the 5-8, 158-pound Turpin of his two kick returns for touchdowns in that preseason game. Well, he nearly had a punt return to the house Monday night against the Giants, going for a season-high 28 yards before getting tripped up, saying, and not bragging, just fact, "I feel like I'm a real game-changer when it comes to returns." No arguments here.
  • Shake Test: Was joking earlier in the day that the best way to check on the condition of Dak Prescott's right hand following the surgery to repair that fractured bone would be to shake hands with him. Went on to tell the story of how Bill Parcells back at The Ranch was checking on a player who had a rib injury insisting he was good to go. Well, Parcells snuck up behind the guy and tapped him on the ribs for his medical update, the player coming out of his shoes, Parcells getting an answer he was looking for. Well, ran into Dak outside the locker room Wednesday and jokingly said, holding out my right hand, "Can we shake hands?" He said, "Yeah, gently." Got my medical test results.
  • Commanding Respect: Yeah, we get it, Washington got thumped by Philadelphia Sunday, 24-8, quarterback Carson Wentz getting sacked nine times. But know this, the Commanders opened the season with a 28-22 win over AFC South-leading Jacksonville (2-1) and lost Game 2 to surprising Detroit, 36-27. In those two games, quarterback Carson Wentz threw for 313 yards and four touchdowns against the Jags and 337 yards and three touchdowns against the Lions. Problem has been Wentz getting sacked, those nine times by the Eagles and now an NFL high 15 times in the first three games. Guessing Wentz hated to find out the Cowboys lead the NFL with 13 sacks.
  • Point Of Order: If it feels like scoring is down the first three weeks of the NFL season, you wouldn't be wrong. Check this out. After three games 17 teams are averaging less than 20 points a game, including the Cowboys (15.3) and just nine teams are averaging more than 25 points a game, Baltimore leading with 99 points scored and, of all teams, Detroit next with 95. And a prime example came Sunday with Tampa Bay and Tom Brady squaring off against Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay, with the Packers winning 14-12. Say no more.
  • Week's Shorts: So on this short week for the Cowboys, McCarthy is more worried about getting his players' legs under them than having heavy practices, especially since they did not get back to Dallas Tuesday morning until like 4:30 a.m., deciding on just a walk-through practice Wednesday … When Jason Peters played those 14 snaps at left guard Monday night, he became just the sixth offensive lineman to play an NFL game in his 40s, the others being Andrew Whitworth, Ray Brown, Bruce Matthews, Jackie Slater and Jeff Van Note … Speaking of Peters, rookie Tyler Smith said of having the veteran offensive lineman on the team, "He knows how to explain it in a certain way to make it simple."

And for the final words, let's go to back to Quinn when mentioning Monday night's performance of veteran defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, starting off by saying this:

"I was really pleased with 'D-Law.' Some people thought he was a forgotten man around here. I promise you that man is not forgotten in this building and around the league he is not. That was such a cool thing for him."

If "Tank" was, he reminded everyone on the nationally televised Cowboys' 23-16 win over the Giants, finishing with six tackles, three sacks, three TFLs, three QB hits and at least a half-dozen pressures, wrecking the Giants' plan to do all they could to neutralize Micah Parsons.

And when asked what Lawrence means to the team, Quinn went on to say, "Sometimes it doesn't show up on the stat sheet, and I promise you he wasn't forgotten in here and not forgotten in the other buildings people are playing in. Also, there's a standard that a 30-year-old defensive end with real high standards about competing and toughness and performing add to your room. And DeMarcus does that. He has the edge, he has a real tough-minded spirit about him, and that can be contagious to other guys to keep raising that standard. His practice habits, the way he goes about it. Sometimes an encouraging voice, sometimes a stern voice – 'Hey this is not how we're going to do it. We're going to go get it on.'

"He's got great command of how to play the position."

Certainly, deserving of this shotout, too.

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