Sullivan: No Matter When Dez Returns, The Key Now Is Cowboys Defense

The author of *America's Team: The Official History of the Dallas Cowboys, Sullivan also writes a new column in each issue of Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. For subscription information, please click here.*

Some of the thoughts that run through an oversized, bald head:

  • We tend to obsess, be it Back to the Future Day, the Star Wars trailer, the NFL Draft or pet rocks (look it up). We being society in general, sports fans even more so and yes, yes, and yes again, the fandom of the Dallas Cowboys. Definitely worth tweets from 42 different reporters associated with the team, heck Rowdy and the vending machine guy, too, about Dez Bryant every hour on the hour. When, in reality, no one really knows for sure, and the information isn't exactly changing on a minute-to-minute basis. Relax, take a bubble bath or something.
  • One guy emailed me the other day saying the team should sit Tony Romo and Dez for the season, lose out and trade their likely No. 1 overall pick for Johnny Manziel. Some other dude on Twitter is obsessed with trading like 47 future first-round selections for LSU All-World running back Leonard Fournette, who isn't even eligible for the draft until 2017. Here's an idea, call me ridiculous, but I don't know, how about focusing on the football team here and now, in the present. The same team many were picking for the Super Bowl seven weeks ago.
  • If Dez needs another week, Dez needs another week. He's coming along quicker than most in the national media predicted. The team always felt it would be the Giants or the following week against the Seahawks. Nothing has changed. No miracles, no setbacks.
  • Know what, though? The point of this column was to talk about this football team, not Dez. That's not a knock on Dez in the least; he's a game-changer, one of the premier talents in the league. Instead, let's talk defense. This defense has me giddy, warm and fuzzy with sprinkles on top.
  • After just six sacks in the first four games, the Cowboys registered five in the first half alone against the Patriots. They kind of wore down in the second half, but with rookie Randy Gregory returning on Sunday, this is really the debut of the defensive front. If this group can just stay healthy, this could – honestly, should – become the present-day Doomsday, at least for the remainder of the year. Whether Greg Hardy is here for one season or long term is a discussion for another day.
  • Really, anything less than five sacks against the Giants would be disappointing. That first drive on Monday night, wow, Eli Manning and company looked like a Super Bowl team against Philadelphia. Thereafter, the offense didn't score a point, committed three turnovers and looked inept. This needs to be repeated more or less once a day: It's only going to take nine victories to win the NFC East.
  • And while it's ridiculously early to think about tiebreakers, a win Sunday goes a long way as Dallas would be 3-0 in the division, whereas Philly is already 1-2 and the Giants would drop to 1-3. Washington is 1-1, but after the initial hoopla about their running game and defense, it's hard to envision that team winning seven more games.
  • Only two quarterbacks in the NFL have thrown at least two more interceptions than touchdown passes thus far. Washington's Kirk Cousins and Peyton Manning. A somewhat stunning statistic, especially considering two rookies (Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston) have started each of their team's games. Another fascinating statistic: three quarterbacks have a lower passer rating than Cousins, among them Andrew Luck and Peyton.
  • As for Matt Cassel, can't imagine the game plan is going to change much from Brandon Weeden. Even when Dez returns. The key is the defense and the offensive line. Weeden did more than what can be expected from a backup quarterback against Atlanta and New Orleans. Did more than enough to win.
  • Only Jacksonville has fewer interceptions than the Cowboys, and no NFL team has fewer forced fumbles. That's been the difference. Know how we mentioned Peyton Manning's struggles earlier? Well, Denver has forced 17 turnovers, thus the 6-0 record.
  • The Cowboys are tied for last in takeaways with three. The team they are tied with, Jacksonville, is 1-5. Baltimore has the next fewest with four and is 1-5. Then San Francisco and Houston with five apiece are a combined 4-8. Turnovers equate success in the NFL. The 10 teams with double-digit takeaways to date are 40-18, and that's including Detroit, who is 1-5 and easily leads the league with 18 turnovers on offense.
  • If Christine Michael is successful early in the game, really not buying into this committee thing. Yeah, Darren McFadden would still be the third-down back, but if Michael is hitting the holes and conjuring up memories of the ground-and-pound from a season ago, let him go. The same coordinator, positions coach and head coach are here from 2014, so they obviously are more than OK giving the carries to a single back. Try that formula again.
  • Sean Lee is the only linebacker in league history to intercept passes from Tom Brady and the Manning brothers.
  • Rob Gronkowski scored his 60th career touchdown last week in his 70th NFL game. That's a ridiculous feat when one considers Jason Witten has 59 in 196 games. Or that Ozzie Newsome caught 49 in 198 games, Mike Ditka 45 in 158 games and Jackie Smith 43 in 210 contests. The latter three reside in Canton and Witten is headed there.
  • Going to take some big games from Witten for his 1,000th career reception to be at home. He's at 973, so he'd need 27 by the conclusion of the Week 9 game vs. Seattle, which is unlikely. The next two games are in Florida, and then Thanksgiving. Can't imagine he doesn't have 27 catches in his next five games. Witten will be the second tight end and 11th player in league history to reach the millennium mark.
  • Really think the Cowboys beat the Giants. Have to like that combination of the bye week against the Monday night game for New York. This matchup is going to be won or loss on the lines and via turnovers. The story isn't Dez. It's whether this defense, at full strength, is as disruptive as we think it can be. And if the offensive line can dominate like it should.

Follow Jeff Sullivan on Twitter, @SullyBaldHead, or email him at jsullivan@dallascowboys.net.

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