NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Let's face it. With 15 games of the 2022 season in the books and just two games to go, undoubtedly the strength of this Cowboys' 11-4 team is this:
Absolutely, no doubt about it, sure, it's definitely this offense.
Dak, Zeke, CeeDee, Tony, Zack, Tyler, now Tyron and the rest of that offensive line, including the other Tyler, Connor, the four-headed tight end monster, Michael, Noah, along with Maher and Kellen – yes, you know, Moore – with a touch of McCarthy for sure, and better watch out for T.Y., the second coming of "Cool Papa" Bell and all the rest of 'em.
And we're not talking rankings by yards here, where the Cowboys come in eighth. Oh no, I'm talking points, where the Cowboys come in third with 434, at 28.9 a game. The only teams scoring more are Philadelphia (29.6) and Kansas City (29.2). And this after the Cowboys limped off to a slow start, scoring just three in the opener and then averaging just 21.4 while still winning four of the five games Dak Prescott missed following thumb surgery.
But just look at what the Cowboys have done over the past nine games while posting a 7-2 record. After scoring just 24 in Dak's first game back against Detroit – but 18 in the second half – the Cowboys have scored at least 25 points in the past eight games, giving them an NFL leading 34.6 points a game in the past nine, nearly four more a game than the Eagles and six more than K.C.
This despite far too many making such a big deal over Dak's 11 interceptions in those nine games while still throwing 20 touchdown passes. Why, among the 33 quarterbacks listed in the official NFL QB rankings with at least 242 attempts, 20 of them haven't thrown 20 touchdown passes and to think Dak missed those five games and part of a sixth.
Here is another striking statistic heading into their Thursday night matchup with the 7-8 Tennessee Titans, losers of their last five straight, more than the Cowboys have lost all season long. The Cowboys have piled up 40-plus points four times this year, and doing so in the past eight games, one short of tying a franchise single-season mark set in the 14-game season of 1971, uh, when the Cowboys won their first Super Bowl.
That's some scoring now, despite leading the league in thrown interceptions with 15.
Oh, and this: Don't let them into the red zone. The Cowboys' 96.1 scoring percentage leads the NFL and their 70.6 touchdown percentage inside the 20-yard line is second to only the Eagles (72.2). They have only failed to come away with points on just two of 51 red zone possessions, an interception and one on downs. That efficiency can be attributed to 19 of their 23 rushing touchdowns coming inside the red zone, plus kicker Brett Maher a perfect 13 of 13 on field goals snapped from the red zone.
And by the way, while the Titans rank No. 2 against the run, they are 31st against the pass and have a banged-up secondary going into the game. Bombs away.
And if you think this is a _shot_ at those Dak naysayers, so be it, but with this Cowboys offensive explosion of late, you think the quarterback has something to do with this? Do ya?
· Strength Of This: Remember at the start of the season when those strength of schedules came out based on the 2022 opponents' records from 2021, and the Cowboys and Commanders were tied for 31st, meaning the easiest. Well, well, guess what? Thanks to all four NFC East teams currently among the top seven seeds in the NFC, not a one with a losing record, the Cowboys strength of schedule currently ranks 12th, their opponents with a .518 winning percentage, and Washington is tied for fourth at .533. So much for those "easy" schedules. Oh, and consider this, the Cowboys with two games to go are 5-1 against teams with winning records, 1-0 against the 7-7-1 Commanders and, go figure, 5-3 against teams with losing records. And at 11-4, tied for the fifth-best record in the NFL, the Cowboys at 4-1 against the NFC East own the second-best division record in the NFL, and at 8-3 the fourth-best conference record. And they are one win away from back-to-back 12-win seasons (17 games), a potential first since the Cowboys went 12-4 three consecutive seasons from 1993-95.
· Sunny Disposition: What would you hate most, refracted sunlight in your eyes or blowing snowflakes? Guessing both sorta make you squint. The Cowboys continue to be criticized for the sun coming through the AT&T Stadium glass doors on the west side. But I hardly hear of the Bills being criticized for not having a roof over their stadium when two feet of snow regularly falls on Buffalo seemingly at least once a season. Or that Seattle doesn't have a roof on its stadium in the rainy Northwest's falls and winters. Thought football is a man's game, supposed to be played in the elements, which is dumb by the way. Which other of the four major sports in the United States (sorry soccer) is played in poor weather conditions? As Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said, defending his stadium's glass end zone doors after it appeared Cowboys wide receiver Michael Gallup was blinded by the sun trying to make a touchdown grab in the east end zone, "The sun was there for both teams, and so both teams have to look for it. You know, we've got about 30 coaches, so we've got a lot of people, and they have assistants, and you don't have any lack of people up there that can tell everybody where that sun is. Everybody knows where the sun is on both sides of the ball." Just like everyone knows where the snow is. Oh, and in this particular case, still think the ball was too high for Gallup to catch. Seeing better would not have caused him to jump higher. Am I right?
· Almost Turpin Time: This kid can't catch a break, KaVontae Turpin taking the second half opening kick Saturday against the Eagles from seven yards deep and deftly navigating out to the 49, a 56-yard return, only to be nullified by a ticky-tacky holding call. Just his threat on both kickoff and punt returns has been enough to get those coaches and players voting him into the Pro Bowl as the NFC return guy. Turpin is the only NFC returner ranked in the top four in both categories, second in punt returns (11.9) and fourth in kickoff returns (24.1). The Cowboys took a chance on the 26-year-old rookie two weeks into training camp when no one else would give him a look, and for that the Cowboys were able to sign Turpin to a three-year deal for just minimums, with no guarantees. Not much leverage on his part.
· "Immaculate" PSR: Here is my Public Service Recommendation. Don't miss the NFL Network's Franco Harris: A Football Life that debuted a short time after the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception this past Friday. Great documentary of the Pittsburgh Steelers running back who passed away on Dec. 21, two days before the documentary debuted and three days prior to the already-planned celebration Saturday of his game-winning catch in the 1972 playoffs to beat the Raiders for the franchise's first playoff victory. A great inside look at Franco's 72-year life on and off the field, and as Pro Football Hall of Fame teammate Joe Greene said of his fellow Hall of Famer, "When Franco arrived, we became the Pittsburgh Steelers. Franco brought the Steelers out of the dark ages."
· Keys To Victory: First and foremost, No Gifts. Just quit turning the ball over. Second, Stop The Run. Derrick Henry, the NFL's second-leading rusher with 1,429 yards and leader with 13 rushing touchdowns, playing or not, the Titans want to run the ball to protect rookie quarterback Malik Willis, the Titans averaging just 16 points in his three starts and 285 yards. And third, just keep Rollin' On Offense until the defense figures out the cornerback positions and linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins return to help a defense totaling one sack in the past three games and giving up 97 points.
· 2022 Leftovers: While this Cowboys-Titans game Thursday night is on Amazon Prime nationally, it also airs locally in the DFW area on Fox 4 … Oh, also hear you can sign up for a trial offer … After topping the NFL during the 2021 season with 34 takeaways, the Cowboys now have the 15-game lead with 30 takeaways this year, 14 of those in the past four games … And we thought Trevon Diggs brought up Everson Walls' name last season with his franchise-tying 11 interceptions, then along comes rookie DaRon Bland, his five interceptions the most by a Cowboys rookie since 1981 when not only did Walls have 11 picks, but fellow rookie safety Michael Downs had seven – not a bad rookie free agent class, wouldn't you say? … And how about this incongruency: With Dak second in the NFL completing 69 percent of his passes but his 12 interceptions tied for 28th and his 3.8 interception percentage 33rd, a real head scratcher, meaning then 73 percent of all his passes are being caught by somebody.
While the Cowboys have recorded just one sack in the past three games, that belonging to Micah Parsons, and his lone sack in the past four games, the team leader with 13 sacks gets the last word, knowing especially in this 40-34 win over the Eagles on Christmas Eve the defensive pressure up front had a lot to do with shutting down the Eagles on their final two possessions.
"I'm liking what I'm seeing," said Parsons, who saw once the Eagles reached the Cowboys' 19-yard line with 33 seconds remaining, forced Gardner Minshew on second down to heave too high into the end zone, then Parsons coming on strong on third down forcing Minshew to throw the ball away, and then on fourth-and-game, Dante Fowler from one side, Parsons busting through a double-team on the other and then DeMarcus Lawrence looping up the middle forcing Minshew into a desperation heave incomplete rather than being sacked. "The ball is coming out much quicker.
"I'll put it like this. I promise you sacking the quarterback is not that easy, especially when they are game planning against it and they don't want you to get going so you might see a lot more play-action, boots.
"But if anybody wants to take my job and step in my shoes, you're more than welcome. I'll hand it over and see how you do."
Judging from the swollen right hand limiting Parsons in practice on Tuesday, saying, "It's football," naw, no thanks. All you, big guy.