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Mick Shots: Nothing Wrong With A One-Two Punch


FRISCO, Texas – Welcome to Bye Week, where after today out at The Star very few creatures will be stirring on the football side of things, the exception being the number of guys putting in their rehab work with the training and strength and conditioning staffs.

Their work is never paused.

And that is the one big reason this bye arrives at such an excellent time, the Cowboys a mighty respectable 6-2 after eight games but now dealing with a bunch of injuries they hope will be fully healed by the time the Nov. 13 game in Green Bay against the Packers rolls around next.

Guys like Ezekiel Elliott and Anthony Barr and Malik Hooker and Noah Brown and Sam Williams and Tyron Smith and James Washington, close to starting his three-week practice activation off the injured reserve list, will continue their rehab work.

But to tide us over until we reconvene next Monday, the Cowboys assistant coaches were made available for interviews on Tuesday, and thought we'd go through some _shots_ collected from those guys who really haven't been available since the season began way back on 9/11 with that false start against Tampa Bay, a 19-3 loss and the loss of Dak Prescott for the next five games.


  • Skipping Around: Of course, this week's hot topic following the offensive explosion in the 49-29 victory over Chicago is the performance of running back Tony Pollard in Zeke's injury-induced absence, rushing for 131 yards on 14 carries and three touchdowns. There has been this clamoring outside the building for Pollard to take over as the Cowboys' starting running back, but this coaching staff has been adamant about Zeke and Pollard sharing the running responsibilities as a very effective one-two punch. Why? Well, Cowboys running backs coach Skip Peete had an interesting take on why the mix of Zeke and Pollard has been and will continue to be so effective against defenses. "We're fortunate to have two very talented guys," Peete said. "Years ago, I'd say 'Thunder and Lightning' but that's been used 80 million times. I always think of it now as a sledgehammer and a sword. The sledgehammer is crushing and pounding, and the sword comes in and slices you up." My guess is you can figure out just who the "sledgehammer" is and just who is the "sword." And Skip is exactly right why this is such an effective approach. Defenses get used to one speed and one angle on run plays and then here comes the speed guy who messes with their angles and is a faster back. And in this case, two is better than one.
  • Tight Surprise: To start the season, the Cowboys knew what they had in tight end Dalton Schultz, having valued him enough to franchise tag the fifth-year veteran in the offseason. But they seemed to be taking a leap of faith with the second two tight ends to start the season, fourth-rounder Jake Ferguson and undrafted free agent Peyton Hendershot, counting on two rookies for depth. But these two, and together so much head coach Mike McCarthy thinks of them as "Frick and Frack," that the Cowboys have been using the two-tight and three-tight formations quite regularly. First of all, those two have held down the fort as Schultz is fighting through a sprained knee, and now with Schultz getting back closer to 100 percent, the trio has been quite effective. After eight games, the tight end group, and that includes practice squad call-up Sean McKeon, has accounted for 39 catches, 366 yards and three touchdowns, with their collective blocking improving. When tight ends coach Lunda Wells was asked about the increased use of two- and three-tight ends sets, he asked, "Why not? Why not? We athletes in there; we not glass-eaters now. We can haul any role you want to give, that's how we look in our mindset. In the run game, we O-linemen, and in pass protection, we're offensive linemen again. And then in the pass game we're receivers, we elusive, we athletic. That's how we train, that's how we go about our business." And not a bad way to roll, keeping defenses on their toes with those heavy sets.
  • Next Man Up: Think about how the Cowboys have survived this unofficial first half of the season, making this "next man up" mentality seem almost trite when considered in totality. Dak Prescott goes down in the opener, but backup Cooper Rush goes 4-1 in his place. Tyron Smith goes down 18 days before the start of the season, tore his hamstring muscle off the bone. Up steps rookie Tyler Smith at left tackle and then Connor McGovern at Smith's left guard spot. James Washington fractures his fifth metatarsal the start of training camp, requiring surgery, and Michael Gallup is not near ready to resume even practicing at the start of the season following his February ACL repair. Up steps Noah Brown, second on the team even though missing this past Chicago game (foot) with 25 receptions for 339 yards and a touchdown. The Cowboys lose Jourdan Lewis now twice, yet up steps rookie slot cornerback DaRon Bland. And even in this past game, down goes linebacker Anthony Barr. Yet who should emerge but rookie fifth-round pick Damone Clark, and at the spur of the moment, coming off PUP following his neck surgery in March to play his first snaps of his NFL career. And not just a few snaps, but 40 snaps worth, and while not perfect, goes for six tackles, mind you. Maybe this is why the Cowboys didn't overreact at the trade deadline, resisting overpaying in draft capital and cap space to bring in another wide receiver, with Gallup rounding into shape and Washington returning soon. Looking at you, Jalen Tolbert, to be ready just in case.
  • Off The Charts: Hey, just because the Cowboys trade for veteran defensive tackle Johnathan Hanks a week before the trade deadline expired, doesn't mean they didn't go anything to improve the team, because of not waiting to the last minute to swing that deal. Hey, if they had, Hankins would not have been here Sunday to contribute three tackles … And Hankins' presence is one reason of many the Cowboys felt comfortable parting ways with 2019 second-round pick Trysten Hill Tuesday in the last year of his contract, totaling just six tackles while playing 25 percent of the snaps this season and a guy who wasn't going to get re-signed for 2023, never really fitting into the general culture of this locker room … What does it say the Cowboys couldn't even trade their first pick in that draft – the first-rounder having already been spent in 2018 for Amari Cooper – for a conditional seventh, although the defensive tackle-needy Cardinals did claim Hill off waivers on Wednesday … Second-round pick or not, sometimes you just got to take out the eraser for an obvious mistake … Maybe getting McGovern, Pollard and Donovan Wilson out of that 2019 draft lessens the sting … And finally, the Cowboys opening the past two seasons with at least back-to-back 6-2 records is the best they have done to open consecutive seasons since going 7-1, 6-2, 7-1 and 7-1 from 1992-95, and having to go back to 1985-86 for the next back-to-back 6-2 starts.

And once again I'll take the last word, and on a somber note, with the unexpected passing of Adam Zimmer, the 38-year-old son of former Cowboys defensive coordinator and former Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, on Monday, Oct. 31. Actually, go way back to 1979 with the elder "Zimm" when he was a graduate assistant coach at the University of Missouri while I was covering the team for the Columbia (Mo.) Tribune at the time.

And when the Cowboys hired Zimmer as a defensive assistant in 1994, and was here through 2006, got to know Adam when he was just 10 years old while now covering the Cowboys. He would hang around The Ranch with Mike, just the nicest kid growing up around the Cowboys. Adam, like his dad and grandfather Bill Zimmer, would go on to become an assistant coach with the Saints and Chiefs before joining his dad in 2013 in Cincinnati when Mike was the defensive coordinator. Adam followed Mike to Minnesota when he became the head coach in 2014 as his linebackers coach and eventually co-defensive coordinator until Zimm was let go after the 2021 season.

This is a heartbreaking loss for Mike Zimmer and his two daughters, Corri and Marki, especially after Mike's wife Vikki passed away when he was coaching in Cincinnati in 2009.

The Vikings led their official team website page with this tribute to Adam Zimmer:

"We are heartbroken to hear about the passing of Adam Zimmer. Adam was a kind, respectful man, and over his years in Minnesota, it was evident he cared tremendously about his family, his players, his fellow coaches and the Vikings front office staff. Our thoughts are with Mike, Corri, Marki and the entire Zimmer family."

Life, sure has a way of delivering some cruel blows.

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