FRISCO, Texas – Granted it's only been two games, so maybe a tad premature to consider this a trend. Or a significant improvement.
But at least it's a start.
The Cowboys have done a much better job, maybe even significantly better, playing the run, one facet of this defense needing improvement over last season.
You guys might remember me harping on this, the fact that last year 11 of 17 opponents rushed for more than 100 yards against the Cowboys, including 207 by Green Bay, 192 by Jacksonville, 167 by the Giants the first time around, and then in the playoffs, 113 in the loss to San Francisco.
Why, the NFL's 12th-ranked total defense finished 22nd against the run.
Well, after two games the Cowboys are now tied for ninth in run defense, having given up just 172 yards total to the Giants and Jets, an average of 86 a game. Now, certainly helps the Cowboys have jumped to gigantic leads in both games, forcing those teams to play catchup and throw the football more than they'd like. But also, early plays in games have discouraged teams from continuing to run the ball.
Take the first defensive play of the 30-10 victory over the Jets. DeMarcus Lawrence crashes in from the left to drop Jets running back Breece Hall for a four-yard loss, a precursor for things to come. And that much ballyhooed Jets running attack with Hall and Dalvin Cook was short-circuited, Hall and Cook combining on eight carries for just 16 yards.
"Just being in (Dan Quinn's) style the last two or three years," DeMarcus Lawrence says of the presumed run defense improvement. "Just being more comfortable playing with each other."
In fact, of the 172 yards rushing given up so far, 79 of those have come from quarterback runs, mostly out of desperation to escape the Cowboys' pass-rush mayhem. That means non-QB runs have accounted for just 93 yards in two games, or 46.5 a game. And one of those running backs has been Saquan Barkley, 12 carries for 53 yards.
"It is a little frustrating," Micah Parsons says of the QB scrambles, although the Giants purposefully did call some quarterback Daniel Jones runs, "but you know, that's just the nature of the game. They are running for their lives, and we aren't. That's just the nature."
Next up, the Cardinals' James Connor, 168 yards in two games, bolstering Arizona's 128.5 rushing yards per game so far, ranking 10th overall in the NFL.
So, let's see. Promise to, uh, run this by you again next week.
- Darn It, Micah: If not for Parson's somewhat typical performance by his standards but exceptional by NFL standards, Cowboys rookie kicker Brandon Aubrey likely would have won the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week Award. But since Parsons was awarded NFC Defensive Player of the Week, there is no way the NFL is going to give the Cowboys two awards in the same week. Come on, how does a kicker going five-for-five on field goals, including a 55-yarder, and accounting for 16 of the Cowboys' 30 points in the 30-10 wipeout of the Jets, not win the award? Instead, the NFL had to really reach to give Tampa Bay punter Jake Camarda the special teams award for like four punts, three downed inside the 20 and the other a 72-yarder, but it was a touchback landing in the end zone. He finished with a 52.8-yard average. Come on, we're talking five field goals and going eight-for-eight on kickoff touchbacks for Aubrey. Even Micah seemed nonplussed over the award, simply saying, "They're OK, but I'm all about the end goal in the journey. I'll enjoy my process to where I want to go."
- Aubreymatic: So Aubrey, in the first two games of his NFL career, and remember he's previously only kicked competitively in two USFL seasons, is seven-for-seven on his field goal attempts, 16-for-16 on kickoff touchbacks and after missing his first NFL kick attempt (an extra-point from 33 yards out), he has hit his next five extra-points. His 26 total points currently after two games leads NFL kickers in scoring.
- Past Is Past: Have been wondering just when QB Dak Prescott was going to get irritated constantly being asked about those 15 interceptions in 2022, especially since it was an anomaly, having averaged just 8.3 picks over his first six seasons in the NFL. So when it came up after Sunday's game once again, with no interceptions in the first two games, no interceptions in back-to-back games since the final four in 2021, Dak had enough. "What about the year before that? Or what about the year before that? Well, you know last year is last year. It's something I've left. (With) the interceptions, I guess when you lead the league, it'll never go away. But as I stated last year, every one of them has their story, but that's not where my mind is. That's not something that I think about. I'm just being candid; I don't really care about the questions about them at this point." Probably the last time he's asked until, well, he actually does throw an interception. And about "their story," he is pointing out subtly that not all of those picks – and by my account, right at half – were not his fault. But the quarterback always must fall on his sword until evidently enough is enough.
- Here We Go Again: So the Pro Football Hall of Fame came out with the 173 Modern Era players eligible for Class of 2024 consideration, and yes, last year's finalist Darren Woodson is among this initial group. Again. But so are the likes of former Cowboys players with at least four years with the franchise Tony Romo, Mark Stepnoski, La'Roi Glover and Nate Newton, by the way a six-time Pro Bowler, as many as Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Roger Staubach, Cliff Harris, Rayfield Wright and the recently inducted Chuck Howley. Call me biased, but just sayin'.
- Shorties: Somewhat much has been made of the Cowboys releasing veteran running back Ronald Jones after his two-game suspension expired. But in my books, Jones, in the Cowboys minds, was released once they realized Tony Pollard would be good to start the season after his surgery, and they drafted Deuce Vaughn. If you simply look at the veteran exception one-year salary Jones was signed to as insurance … Got to like CeeDee Lamb's comment after Sunday's consecutive dominant performance to the open the season, saying, "We here to dominate." … Did you see where the San Francisco 49ers signed former Cowboys cornerback Anthony Brown off the Pittsburgh Steelers' practice squad, the eighth-year veteran having torn his Achilles last season and likely brought in as veteran insurance … And how about an average of 9.3 million viewers turning into to Saturday night's 9 p.m. start to the Colorado-Colorado State game on ESPN, the network's fifth-most watched game ever, certainly another indication of the Deion factor.
And for the last word, and maybe the most entertaining words, let's go back to our local wordsmith Micah Parsons, who has incorporated his "sack crawl" celebrating his sack of Jets quarterback Zach Wilson on Sunday, and was asked Wednesday about how he is adapting to this "lion" personality.
"I just adapted to it," Micah began. "I just feel like some things you just got to embrace. I feel like my energy and positivity, and the things I'm trying to bring into the guys, finding their own ego and finding themselves. And I know I joke around a lot about it, but I really feel like that's just who I am, who I want to be.
"But when I always get my chance to talk in front of the room, I talk about the lion hunt, and the preciseness and how methodical it has to be, and how the lions have to work as a team to get what they need so they feed their family. I say (taking on his lion persona), 'Look at this, this is who we are bro.' We out here trying to hunt this guy, and trying to kill these people so we can feed out families. That's our why. I say no matter if it's nature or in life, everyone has a why, and every week we have a chance to fight for ours.
"I said, 'We got to be a pack of lions.'"
And there he goes, growling along.