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Mick Shots: Don't overlook the difference makers


FRISCO, Texas – This right here is no mere coincidence.

There has been so much talk over the past month or so of Dak Prescott playing the best ball in now his eighth season and his slash line sure might suggest that. Over the past six games, Dak has completed 148 of 210 passes, a 70 percent completion rate, for 1,874 yards, 18 touchdowns, just two interceptions and a QB rating that was hovering around 87.0 back in October but has risen to 122.6 over this six-game stretch since the loss to San Francisco. And by no surprise, the Cowboys have won five of those six games, the only loss a narrow, 28-23, one on the road to the 10-1 NFL-leading Eagles.

His quarterback rating for the entire season now stands at 107.7, second best in the NFL to just the Niners' Brock Purdy at 112.3, that fueled by one game with a perfect rating of 158.3. Dak's 11-game completion percentage is second at 70 percent, too, and his 23 touchdown passes rank second to Josh Allen's 24. Primo stuff.

But then running back Tony Pollard also enters in the conversation, being asked what's been the difference for him over these past five games? After a slow start, Pollard over this stretch has carried the ball 54 times for 299 yards and a touchdown in each of the last two games. His per-carry average previously hovering under the 3.9-yard range has jumped to 5.53 during this streak. And the team, including Rico Dowdle's contribution, has rushed for at least 100 yards in four of these past five games, with a per-carry average of 4.4 and now for the season to a more acceptable 4.1.

No coincidence then that both these guys and the team are surging going into Thursday night's meeting with the 6-5 Seattle Seahawks, the Cowboys now riding a three-game winning streak. Their 8-3 record has pushed them into a six-way tie for the third-best record in the NFL, just a half game behind the 9-3 Ravens and, of course, two behind the Eagles. The NFL's other five 8-3 teams all lead their divisions.

To me then, the common denominator to this offensive resurgence – the Cowboys totaling at least 342 yards in five of those six games with a high of 640 yards against the Giants while scoring at least 33 points in four of those six, along with at least 43 in three of them – is this:

The play of the offensive line.


Right according to head coach Mike McCarthy, saying, "It all starts up front."

Left to right: Tyron Smith, Tyler Smith, Tyler Biadasz, Zack Martin, Terence Steele. Those five guys have accounted for 29 of the possible six-game 30 starts, only Tyron missing the one game. Finally, there has been some continuity for that group, the fivesome playing at a previously expected level that was minimized during training camp and earlier in the season by injuries. Who can forget three-fifths of those guys MIA in the 28-16 loss at Arizona in Game 3?

Just look around the NFL to understand the importance of offensive line play. Show me a team struggling on offense, and my gosh, 16 teams just this past week scored no more than 17 points in 16 games played, and I'll show you a team struggling on the offensive line.

Just ask Dak. After jokingly contributing his elevated level of play to his new-found "Dad strength," he and his partner Sarah Jane Ramos announcing the pregnancy of a baby girl, Dak said, "It goes to the credit of everything around me." Especially the offensive line in the past three games, suffering no sacks after going down 13 times in the previous three games during this streak and 22 times in the other eight games.

You want reasons? Rhythm? Play-calling? In sync with an altered offensive plan? Go ahead if you will. But don't stray too far from this reason, McCarthy emphasizing, "Just pleased with the line and how it's progressed over the last month."

The line of demarcation between OK and goodness. Period.

  • Four Of A Kind: Told you after the loss to Philadelphia on Nov. 5 the Cowboys mission became winning the next four straight. They've won three so far. Imperative they win the fourth by defeating a Seattle team having lost two straight and three of their past four, while scoring a total of 32 points in those three losses. No can do looking ahead to the Dec. 10 rematch with the Eagles. No matter what Philly does this Sunday against San Francisco, the Cowboys must get to 9-3, and remain no more than two games behind the Eagles when they meet that Sunday night at AT&T Stadium if they are to have any chance of staying in the NFC East title race. And to do so, then they must defeat the Eagles, cutting the margin to one game with four to play. Guess that means five straight for sure.
  • Close Shaves: And here is why you can't get all wound up in what other teams are doing. Take the Eagles past two games, a 21-17 win at Kansas City and a 37-34 overtime win against Buffalo. They were two easy completions away from being 8-3. Seriously. Don't forget the potential 49-yard Patrick Mahomes' 49-yard touchdown pass with 1:42 left to play that Marquez Valdez-Scantling dropped at the goal line, preventing a 38-34 Chiefs lead. And then against Buffalo, Josh Allen's potential first-overtime-possession 22-yarder for a game-ending touchdown on third down to Gabe Davis, who turned left when the pass was wide open to his right, leading to but a field goal that the Eagles erased with a touchdown on their ensuing possession for the win. Yep, that close. As Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said about those two close calls on 105.3 The Fan the other day, "What have I done to deserve this?" followed by more seriously, "You got to just roll over and think about what you're doing."
  • One Last Kettle: Jerry Jones story time, explaining how before the Thanksgiving Day game, DaRon Bland asked secondary coach Al Harris if gets his fifth record-setting pick-6, "Will you be there to push me in the Red Kettle?" Harris then came to Jones and head coach McCarthy when they were visiting before that game asking, "What should I do here?" And so McCarthy said ask Jerry, and Jerry responded, "By all means, push him in that Kettle – go in there with him if you can." Didn't need any help, Bland's teammates took care of the rest, and as Jerry said, "Great stuff, great, great stuff" of the Kettle-jumping and turkey leg munching bringing all that attention to The Salvation Army.
  • Woody, Woody: Think I'm just exhausted campaigning for the Cowboys' Pro Football Hall of Fame-caliber safety to finally be selected into Canton, now making the semifinal round for the eighth time. Eighth, for crying out loud. Please, someone tell me why, just why, there isn't a Darren Woodson bust in the Hall? Oh, don't bother. There is no good reason.
  • Leonard Watch: Make no mistake, the Cowboys were interested in signing recently released veteran linebacker Shaquille Leonard during his Tuesday visit with the team at The Star, though leaving for a visit next with the Eagles on Wednesday. Jerry Jones put it this way Tuesday morning ahead of the visit: "A player like him, you don't have any questions," when asked if he needed to talk with Leonard's former Colts teammates Stephon Gilmore and Malik Hooker, pointing out, "Not a hard scouting job." To Jerry, a potential signing came down to how they scouted Leonard's current play and the physical, knowing Leonard had two back surgeries to repair nerve damage in 2022, saying, "Now the next thing is how you get something worked out if all the other fits." Sounds as if the "other" fit. Stay tuned but know Eagles coach Nick Sirianni was the Colts offensive coordinator for three years of Leonard's career there.
  • Holiday Leftovers: Can't believe there were those critical of Dolly Parton having fun wearing that faux Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders outfit over her bedazzled body suit during her Thanksgiving halftime performance. Come on, didn't you just smile? Can't we have some fun? Lighten up, folks … See where Seattle just signed former Cowboys second-round draft choice Kelvin Joseph to their practice squad after Miami released the corner that the Cowboys traded to the Dolphins in exchange for Noah Igbinoghene … Kudos to the job Jason Garrett did during his analyst role Sunday night during the Ravens-Chargers game … Did you happen to catch Michael Irvin's laugh-fest with Jimmy Kimmel Monday night? … McCarthy noted he considers fourth-down stops akin to takeaways, and so far opponents have converted 13-of-24 fourth-down attempts (54.2) percent. But think about it this way, five of those conversions were desperate attempts while trailing by the Giants and Panthers and two more by the unstoppable Eagles, those three teams going 7-for-8. Other than that, teams have gone 6-of-16, just 37.5 percent, so a lot of takeaways in McCarthy's books … And on the injury front, the Cowboys are all clear, everyone on the report practicing fully on Wednesday.

Hey, let's turn over this week's last word to McCarthy when asked about if he sits around worrying about possibly getting help from other teams beating the Eagles since the Cowboys themselves potentially beating Seattle and then the Eagles next still leaves them one game behind in the NFC East race with four games to play.

"The road to the championship is always under construction," Mike began, "and it's never the same for two teams, so that is why we keep our focus on what's in front of us and what we can handle. I think there is a lot of football to be played, and the most important thing for us is to win and continue to improve.

"So there are many different ways we can stay focused to apply our energy to those two critical points of emphasis. That best serves us."

Meaning don't sleep on Seattle.

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