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Science Lab: Cowboys Learning How to Finish?


Patrik [No C] Walker joined the Dallas Cowboys digital media group as a staff writer and media personality in July 2022, having professionally covered the NFL and, more specifically, the Cowboys since 2007.

He most recently did so for CBS Sports by way of 247Sports, where he also spent time delving into collegiate recruiting as well – ultimately becoming well-known for his level of unapologetic objectivity labeled by many as his own unique brand of football "science".

Welcome to "The Science Lab", a place where football facts and in-depth analysis always triumph over feelings.

FRISCO, TX — It doesn't matter who your opponent is in the NFL, it's going to be exceedingly difficult to get your foot positioned firmly on their Adam's apple over the course of a game, because any team can deliver a doomsday scenario on any given week; routinely making it more of a "Black Adam's apple", if you will.

After all, it's the challenger Superman underestimates that is most likely to land a striking blow, because all it takes is a little magic used at the right time in the right way.

This is all a lesson the 2022 version of the Dallas Cowboys have seemingly learned is that once you do get your cleats on an opponent's neck, you put more weight on that leg — not less. It bears mentioning this, along with some other notable issues, has been a key reason for the lack of success in the postseason and on the road to it on more than one occasion, and on both a micro and a macro scale.

Most recently, they marched into Lambeau Field and ran up a 14-point lead against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers only to eventually let them off of the mat en route to a 31-28 loss in overtime.

In the three games that followed, they've incinerated the scoreboard with a combined 77 points in the second half of games.

Talk about using your heat vision.

That carpet bombing includes a 33-point nuke dropped on the Indianapolis Colts in the fourth quarter of their 54-19 victory on Sunday, improving to 9-3 on the season and remaining in hot pursuit of the Philadelphia Eagles and providing evidence for an answer to a question I posed to First-Team All-Pro linebacker Micah Parsons following the 40-3 bounceback throttling of the Minnesota Vikings in Week 11.

Was the heartbreaker in Green Bay a "statement loss"?

"It showed us things about ourselves that we wouldn't have seen if we won that game, so sure," he said after delivering Ragnarok to the Vikings.

Spoiler: He is correct.

I mean, there is obviously a such thing as a "statement win", e.g., the one against the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium, and that means a "statement loss" would have to be its direct inverse — a Bizarro to Superman, if you will — that will either propel a team to become what they should ultimately be or to shatter their entire season with the realization they were never what they thought they were in the first place.

What the loss to the Packers (the fashion in which it happened, specifically) did was hold up a mirror to the Cowboys and forced them to understand their otherwise lights-out defense was very lights-on when it came to stopping the run, or lack thereof, and that the weakness would eventually [again] likely be their downfall in the postseason.

Parsons and his defensive compatriots stared passionately into that mirror until it shattered from their gaze, rededicating themselves to the execution needed to bottle up an opponent's running game like overpriced tap water.

Here are the RBs they faced since and their production, respectively:

  • Week 11: Dalvin Cook - 72 yards, 0 TDs
  • Week 12: Saquon Barkley - 39 yards, 1 TD
  • Week 13: Jonathan Taylor - 82 yards, 0 TDs

The outcome of those games?

  • Week 11: Win
  • Week 12: Win
  • Week 13: Win

No, it's not a coincidence. It's correlation.

There's also the added context of making the scoreboard as the 12th run defender by virtue of fast starts and/or continued success on offense to allow for the privilege of an unleashed pass rush, as I mentioned two weeks ago would need to be the case. From there, they've also apparently found the psychological switch that activates the Mamba Mentality, turned it on and placed razor wire around it along with a moat filled with alligators and snipers on the roof aimed at it, in the event someone tries to turn it back off.

To that point, I asked Trevon Diggs, another First-Team All-Pro and defensive leader in Dallas, what they learned from the Packers battle that can help them avoid suffering the same fate against downtrodden teams like the Colts, the Houston Texans (Week 14) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (Week 15) — also predicated upon not allowing a receiver (or anyone) to go from being an afterthought in the league to a Hall of Famer for a day against the Cowboys.

"Anybody can lose," Diggs told me. "Anybody can."

They got reminded of this on Sunday by allowing the Colts to remain competitive and even take the lead in the first half before the "switch" went off, and the rest was basically the Son of El beating up on Stone Boy (look it up) for the remaining 15 football minutes.

As they prepare to host the Texans, owners of the league's worst record at 1-10-1, eyes will again be on their ability to get off to a fast start, yes, but also on their willingness to finish the asphyxiation.

With the final three games of the season being an electric rematch against the Eagles that will determine playoff seeding (and more?), a fight against the battle-tested Titans and a rematch with a much more competitive Commanders team, there's absolutely nothing that hints at the Cowboys having the luxury to treat their next two opponents as anything other than Super Bowl contenders — despite both being far from it.

That is if they want to get back to one this season.

And, if they do, they can thank Bizarro (i.e., Aaron Rodgers) for punching them in the mouth in mid-November.

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