FRISCO, Texas – Time to reflect, time to move forward. That's the existing dichotomy of the bye week, however short that bye really is.
Think about the bye. The Cowboys having to play a Monday night game in Los Angeles had two full days cut from their bye. They beat the Chargers Monday night at SoFi Stadium. They did not land at their DFW charter site until 3:30 in the morning Tuesday. By the time most got home, now it's 4:30 a.m. Get to sleep at the earliest probably around 5 a.m., though there was a lot sleeping on the flight going on. So forfeited two days of what is supposed to be a seven-day bye, now scheduled to be back to work on Monday here at The Star.
But the good thing coming out of this Chargers game: Finding a workable solution to compensate for at least the four-game loss of linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, placed on injured reserve with the severe stinger suffered in the loss to San Francisco.
Not only did the Cowboys move Micah Parsons into a part-time linebacker role next to starter Damone Clark but also utilized second-year safety/linebacker Markquese Bell in more of a linebacker role in place of their leading tackler after five games. And from the look of things Monday night, they compensated well.
The Cowboys held the Chargers, the No. 1 ranked offense in the NFL going into the game, to just 272 yards, their fewest total yards in five games. Held the Chargers to only 53 yards rushing, fewest of the season – this with all-purpose running back Austin Ekeler returning for the first time in four games – and just the second time to less than 100 yards.
Most of all, held the Chargers to a season-low 17 points and quarterback Justin Herbert to a reasonable 227 yards passing.
And get this, not only did Bell play a career-high 39 snaps in the game, mostly at linebacker, but he also finished second on the team with seven tackles – just one behind Clark, who was playing a more prominent role – along with breaking up one pass. This from a guy who played safety his entire college career. The seven tackles were just one less than the eight he totaled in the season opener against the Giants, but mostly toward the end of that 40-0 win.
On top of all that, this was Bell's first NFL start.
"He played extremely well," Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said of his second-year player. "We're still working through game balls, but I think he'll be at the front of the list. An excellent performance."
And with another week of practice coming up prior to the Cowboys' Oct. 29 game against the Rams coming out of the bye, Bell certainly will have another full week of linebacker practice.
Good thing for the Cowboys since secondary coach Joe Whitt simply called Bell "a good football player."
Taking full advantage of finally getting his shot.
- Deep Waters: Much has been made of the Cowboys offense breaking up a 17-17 tie by driving downfield with 7:11 left in the game, after the Chargers had tied the score, to set up Brandon Aubrey's game-winning 39-yard field goal. Why, during the 14-play, 54-yard drive, the offense converted three straight third downs along the way, the final one an 11-yard Dak Prescott pass to Brandin Cooks for 11 yards to the Chargers' 21. But for the first time all year, the Cowboys defense had to become the closers in a 20-17 game with just 2:19 left to play, the Chargers out of timeouts and but the two-minute warning left to stop the clock. And the sequence didn't start off very well, Micah Parsons called for offsides, the Chargers now first-and-5 at the 30-yard line. Big play by DeMarcus Lawrence first, dropping Herbert running out of the pocket for only a 3-yard gain. On second down, Micah lined up at defensive tackle, split the double-team and beat Ekeler's block for the Cowboys' first sack of the game. "Big-time players make big-time plays," McCarthy said. Then another "big-time" play, this time defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa's pressure forcing Herbert to step to his right, with the blitzing Clark now in his face as his pass toward Quentin Johnston is intercepted by Stephon Gilmore for the closeout. Said defensive coordinator Dan Quinn the next day, "We haven't had that where we had to go in the deep waters of the last two minutes of the game in this season, into our sixth game. Coming off a loss, we weren't looking for anything to be easy and it wasn't. That's exactly what we needed." Certainly a "shot" of confidence for this defense.
- Nod Toward Teams: Here is the trickle-down effect from the Cowboys not only losing special teams ace C.J. Goodwin but also Vander Esch and rookie safety Juanyeh Thomas on their game-day 48-man roster. Losing LVE means Clark now must play more snaps. So does Bell. So there goes some valuable special teams snaps those guys would play. Then the loss of Goodwin and Thomas means someone must take all their special teams snaps since both are on nearly every unit. First, since Deuce Vaughn doesn't play special teams unless he's returning, the Cowboy made the rookie one of the seven inactives and elevated running back Malik Davis off the practice squad. Then elevated Malik Jefferson, too, for backup linebacker and special teams duties. That also meant for the first time this season, rookie wide receiver Jalen Brooks was active, meaning cornerback Noah Igbinoghene was inactive. Special teams matter.
- Little Byes: The Cowboys played four of their first six games on the road, losing half of them, but when they return from the bye next week, they will play five of the next seven at home, including playing host to the Rams, Giants, Commanders, Seahawks and Eagles for the second time in six weeks … Isn't it high time rookie kicker Brandon Aubrey was selected as NFC Special Teams Player of the Week? But he wasn't this week even though he converted his 15th and 16th consecutive field goals of his career, including the 39-yard game winner with 2:19 to play to break the 17-17 tie … Not to jinx the guy, but Dak has nicknamed him "Butter Aubrey," because as Dak said, "he's smooth as butter." Aubrey now is two short of matching the NFL record for most consecutive field goals made to start a career, set in 2015 by Travis Coons of the Cleveland Browns at 18, and is one short of the next-longest streak of 17, accomplished by four others.
And for this week's bye of a last word, we are going with Whitt, expounding on the Cowboys' use of the safety Bell, 6-2, 218, now officially listed on the depth chart as a linebacker. Whitt went on to explain why the Cowboys look at the second-year undrafted Bell as a "position-less player."
"I think the NFL is going to trend this way to a position-less like defense," Whitt said. "(Bell's) a good football player, OK. We want as many good football players on the field as possible. You can say he's a linebacker … then in (certain packages) he's a safety.
"It really doesn't matter, you're going to put as many good football players on the football field and allow them to show their skill set. So we don't limit it by position, all right. We don't do that."
Makes of bunch of sense, doesn't it? Especially to Bell.