FRISCO, Texas – This is not so much an excuse, and there should be no excuses for a 5-2 team, tying for the fourth-best record in the NFL, though the problem is just the third best in the NFC East where the Eagles (6-0) and Giants (6-1) have combined for just one loss, and that belonging to the Cowboys.
Nope, more of a summer reminder of just how young this Cowboys team really is, now nearly half the current 53-man roster (25) in no more than NFL Year 3. That's a lot of youth.
And to think, nine of those 25 are starters on the team's official depth chart for this week's game against the Chicago Bears, all a prime example of head coach Mike McCarthy's "draft and develop" philosophy.
Let's consider, starting with the offensive line. Three of the starting five are in no more than their third seasons, with of course rookie Tyler Smith now with all of seven NFL games under his belt. And even a fourth, Connor McGovern, is in just his fourth, the left guard a fulltime starter for the first time
Then move to tight end. Initially thought this would be one of the weakest groups on the team, but mostly because of the unknown. Sure, starter Dalton Schultz is franchised in his fifth year, but behind him was going to be two rookies, fourth-round pick Jake Ferguson and undrafted rookie free agent Peyton Hendershot.
Well, those two rookies have stepped to the plate, each now with a touchdown reception, and having become the driving force behind the Cowboys utilizing so many two- and three-tight end sets. The key? Not being afraid to play the youngsters.
Oh, and we forget since he's already played in 39 games, CeeDee Lamb, the team's leading receiver (37 for 449 yards and two touchdowns), is in just his third season. And don't forget, second-year Matt Farniok had become the backup center/guard and then pulling some fullback duty until tearing that hammy and landing on IR.
Defensively, we forget two of the biggest stars, Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs, are in just their second and third seasons, respectively. Parsons, with eight sacks, is just a half-sack shy of tying for the NFL lead. And Diggs, with his three interceptions, is tied for second most, one behind the leaders.
The two listed starting defensive tackles, Osa Odighizuwa and Quinton Bohanna, are second-year players. Neville Gallimore in just his third as part of the rotation inside. And you are just witnessing the emergence of rookie defensive end Sam Williams, the team's second-round pick.
And with Jourdan Lewis ending up on IR following surgery to repair Sunday's Lisfranc fracture, the Cowboys will turn to another youngin', fifth-round rookie DaRon Bland to jump in as the slot corner. Plus, let's not forget rookie returner KaVontae Turpin, one kickoff return short of ranking second in both average punt and kickoff returns.
See what I mean? All this with a _shot_ to continue improving with more than half the season still to play.
- Hail Emmitt: Twenty years ago Thursday, Oct. 27, 2002, at Texas Stadium, Emmitt Smith broke Walter Payton's long-standing career rushing record of 16,726 with his 109-yard performance against Seattle to reach 16,743 career yards that day. Payton broke Jim Brown's record of 12,312 yards in 1984. Emmitt played two more years after that 2002 season with the Arizona Cardinals, finishing with his 18,355 yards that still stands today.
- Halfway There: After just seven games, the Cowboys have five wins. If they can win at least five of the final 10, giving them at least 10 for 2022, this would be the first time the Cowboys have put together back-to-back double-digit win seasons since accomplishing that feat in six straight seasons from 1991-96. That tied the franchise high, first set from 1968-73 with six.
- Huge Human: Make way for defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, the Cowboys recent trade acquisition for peanuts. The Cowboys are listing the 11th-year veteran at 320 pounds. Online he's listed at 340. If we split the difference then, how about 330? And standing in front of him after his first practice with the Cowboys on Wednesday, he's every bit of that and now the heaviest on a defensive line in need of some beef upfront to play the run. He's labeled a 1-technique player, but there is nothing one about this guy, and says there should be no reason why he can't be ready to play Sunday against the Bears.
- Justice Done: Never understood why Parsons wasn't given that sack Sunday of quarterback Jared Goff that went to Dorance Armstrong, since it was Parsons who hooked Goff's ankle, sending him falling forward. Well, upon further review, the NFL has awarded Parsons that sack, giving him a two-sack game and already eight in seven games. That puts Mighty Micah on pace over 17 games for a 19.5 sack season. That also gives him seven multi-sack efforts in his first 23 NFL outings, tying Aldon Smith for the most multi-sack efforts through 23 career games.
- Down But Not Out: Sure, Ezekiel Elliott did not practice Wednesday with a sore knee, but don't assume the seventh year running back won't play come Sunday. Unless suspended, Zeke has only missed three games in the previous six seasons and played through his sprained knee (PCL) suffered in Game 4 of last season to appear in all 17 games in 2021. "I think it's mentality," Zeke said of his ironman efforts. "I believe my teams needs me out there. I believe that pain is temporary, and I need to be out there with my guys. That's the priority." Having said that, I'll put my money on Zeke playing Sunday with that same bruised, hyperextended knee that he finished off with in Sunday's win over Detroit.
- Can't Wait: Just can't wait to see linebacker Damone Clark, one of the Cowboys' fifth-round draft choices, in a game. And that wait might not be too long. The Cowboys have activated Clark off the Non-Football Injury list onto the 53-man roster, and as I've said previously, at 6-3, 245 this former LSU Tiger sure looks the part of a big-time linebacker. Special teams will be his job if he plays on Sunday and says he hasn't played on special teams since his freshman year at LSU. But this is the kind of guy you want on special teams. He'll certainly be hungry since he's been sidelined since having vertebrae fusion neck surgery after the Scouting Combine. And while early projections had him returning in December at the earliest, Clark worked his tail off rehabbing. And as Dak Prescott points out, if a guy earns a sign of approval from Cowboys rehab guru Britt Brown, he certainly has something. "I just was taking it one day at a time," Clark said of his offseason, training camp and last two months of work, spending his previous two weeks of lead-up practice on the scout team. "Biggest thing I did is be where my feet are. My feet were in present time and when the time came to be back active, to be practicing, I took advantage of it. … The biggest thing I knew was I wasn't going to be out for a long time. … I knew my time was going to come, and I didn't want to waste the opportunity I'd have."
- Buck Shots: Always thought former Cowboys linebackers coach Matt Eberflus (2011-17) would one day get a head coaching job, especially after the Colts hired him away from here as a defensive coordinator in 2018. Was a heckuva assistant, and also during his first stint as a defensive coordinator at the University of Missouri (sorry, just had to get that in) … Eberflus endeared himself to those blue-collar Chicago fans this offseason when he and the Bears were fined for too physical practices, what you get in the City of Broad Shoulders … With those five takeaways in the Detroit game, the Cowboys' 12 takeaways rank fifth in the NFL, and their plus-6 net differential ranks second to Philadelphia's plus-12 that the Cowboys contributed generously to with three … The Bears match the Cowboys with 12 of their own takeaways … Zeke ranks third among Cowboys all-time running backs in rushing attempts (1,759), rushing yards (7,829) and rushing touchdowns (60) while in his seventh season, behind two Pro football Hall of Famers, Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett, Emmitt having played 13 seasons with the Cowboys and Dorsett 11 … And lastly, in my 39th season of watching Cowboys football games, my first NFL game to attend growing up came in the late 1960s, Bears-Lions at Wrigley Field, probably early high school days, and thought Dick Butkus was the largest human being I'd ever seen in person. Especially with those big ol' middle linebacker shoulder pads on.
And this week's last word goes to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, putting in perspective how hard it is to win in the NFL, no matter who you are playing, be it the 1-4 Detroit Lions at the time, and certainly this week, too, the 3-4 Chicago Bears, who just broke their three-game losing streak this past Monday night with that 33-14 win over New England.
"And it just shows you every time we line up, we've got what we were dealing with in the first half out here the other day," said Jones, referring to the Cowboys trailing Detroit 6-3 at halftime. "There's going to be nobody that can't step up here and wins these games.
"That's where we are, that's the life we live."
Go ask 3-4 Tampa Bay and 3-4 Green Bay and the 3-3 Los Angeles Rams and 3-4 San Francisco, and especially 2-5 Denver, the Broncos thinking they had solved the last piece of the puzzle when trading for Russell Wilson.
And as Drew Pearson says, and I've always wanted to say this, hut-hut.