ARLINGTON, Texas – When the team you cover puts on a dominant display like this Cowboys team did on Sunday, it's always easy to throw out some attaboys.
I wrote 800 words about the highpoints of this 28-14 win, and I'm positive I left some deserving individuals out of the action. We can get more into a detailed breakdown on Monday, but for now here are some quick thoughts on a very impressive performance.
- There is no way I would have ever believed Geno Atkins would have been held off the stat sheet in a game. If you would have asked me which Bengals defensive player I worried the most about -- it would have been Atkins. Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and Ronald Leary were outstanding in the way that they dealt with Atkins with the majority of their blocks being single blocks without help.
- Love the call from Scott Linehan on the second touchdown of the game. Linehan, through his preparation, knew how aggressive the Bengals' front plays and he took advantage of Carlos Dunlap playing as that crash end. Once Dunlap flew down inside, it was a simple read for Dak Prescott to pull the ball and walk into the end zone. That's a coach that did his homework.
- Say what you want about Terrance Williams and how you might not like him as a player, but he is becoming a reliable option for Dak Prescott -- especially down the field. Where I feel like Williams has improved his game the most, is as a route runner. There were games during his career where he struggled to get any type of separation, but that has changed since Dez Bryant has been out of the lineup.
- How many times have we seen this Cowboys defensive line not take advantage of a situation where the opponents' offensive line didn't protect well? With DeMarcus Lawrence back in the lineup, this pass rush had a different look. It wasn't four defensive tackles rushing but a legitimate pressure player off the edge. I had a feeling that we were going to see Lawrence rush from both sides, and he did just that. He had a chance for two sacks in the game but just couldn't finish. I don't see him missing those opportunities in the coming weeks.
- I thought the way that the Cowboys would be able to control the edge rushers for the Bengals was with max protection by keeping their tight ends in to block. I will go back and study the tape, but I only noticed them doing that one time -- which came in the first half on the pass to Brice Butler. The pass protection was able to hold up to the point where they didn't have to use that scheme.
- How about Morris Claiborne knocking the ball away from A.J. Green on 3rd-and-9 during the Bengals' opening drive of the second half. By making that play, the Bengals were forced to try a 50-yard field goal -- which they missed. The next play, Ezeikel Elliott took the handoff, and, behind a trap block from Geoff Swaim and a seal block from Doug Free, went 60 yards for a touchdown -- putting them up four scores.
- The numbers might not say that Byron Jones is making a ton of plays, but this was the second game where he was matched up with a receiver one-on-one and was able to knock the ball away. Just goes to show you what a weapon this defense has with Jones in the secondary.
- Heck of a blitz pickup by Ezekiel Elliott on a 3rd-and-9 that allowed Dak Prescott the opportunity to hit Cole Beasley on the move to secure a first down. Elliott doesn't get enough credit for his blocking ability, but since he has had to play more on third downs he has been spot-on with his assignments and techniques.
- J.J. Wilcox continues to do things in order to help this team win. This week he led the team with three special teams tackles. Wilcox has gone from being a liability to a confident player, and that might the biggest surprise of the season.
- Nice to see Terrell McClain finally be rewarded for his fine play. If you asked who has been the defensive MVP through this first quarter of the season -- I believe I would choose McClain over Morris Claiborne. What I especially like about McClain is how consistent he has been each week. His game doesn't go up and down one bit.
- Chris Jones doesn't get enough credit for how good of a punter he is. There is no way that I would have kicked the ball in the direction of Adam Jones there in the fourth quarter. Jones launched a directional bomb 51 yards that pinned Adam Jones along the sideline, resulting in no return. It was a huge play to keep the ball out of the hands of a dangerous returner.
- Speaking of special teams, I never thought I would see anyone other than Dan Bailey kick field goals in pregame, but there was Jeff Heath taking a kick or two. I have to admit that Heath did look confident kicking in his pink shoe. Luckily, Bailey was able to make it through the game without any issues.