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By: Tom Ryle
We’re still trying to figure out how much is the opposition and how much is just a really good football team.
Another week, another dominant performance from the Dallas Cowboys. They were in control of the game against the New York Jets, especially in the second half as a stifling defense and an efficient offense once again was a winning formula. Even the special teams had a star that was very much unexpected coming into the season. But this game wasn’t without a couple of warts to work on. Let’s take a look at the stats and see what we can learn.
Let’s hope defense really does win championships
It’s still early, but the Dallas defense has to be given strong consideration as the best in the league. We knew coming into the season that they had a ferocious and deep group of pass rushers, and that has proved to be absolutely true. They are tied for the lead in sacks with the Washington Commanders at 10 prior to the results of MNF, adding three more against the Jets. They had four takeaways in this game and are the league leader in interceptions after the pass rush harassed Zach Wilson into some bad throws.
This defensive roster is ridiculously loaded. It starts with the player Jim Nantz and Tony Romo discussed as not just a DPOY candidate, but a potential MVP, Micah Parsons.
Micah Parsons just logged his best @PFF grade in his NFL career against the Jets:
— Nick Harris (@NickHarrisDC) September 18, 2023
He is tied for the team lead in sacks on the season with three, two coming this game. His pressure is relentless and was a direct contributor to the Wilson picks. At times he just looks unblockable with his combination of strength, speed, and an ever growing arsenal of moves to throw at the unfortunate players trying to slow him. It forces offenses to try and adjust to handle him, and that just opens the door for other players, like the co-leader in sacks, Osa Odighizuwa. When you are getting that kind of pass rush production from a defensive tackle, things are really going well. Odighizuwa isn’t the only threat up the middle, either.
Chauncey Golston and OO97 both rank top-15 in pass-rush grade among NFL IDL through 2 weeks (pre-MNF) #Cowboys
— John Owning (@JohnOwning) September 18, 2023
And Parsons overshadows another extremely good edge rusher, DeMarcus Lawrence. While he does not get home as much, with only one sack so far this season, he is another huge headache for offenses.
DeMarcus Lawrence also ranks No. 1 among NFL EDGEs in run-defense grade at 91.2. Micah Parsons ranks 2nd at 90.7. #Cowboys https://t.co/nrEzZypfWs
— John Owning (@JohnOwning) September 18, 2023
How do you mount an offense against that kind of assault? Well, we still have to wait for a real challenge as the two New York teams that the Cowboys have defeated so far are not exactly the cream of the crop, but don’t forget that those two teams have also managed to get to 1-1, including a remarkable comeback by the New York Giants against the admittedly struggling Arizona Cardinals. And the pass rush doesn’t stop with those three. With players like Dorance Armstrong, Dante Fowler, and Neville Gallimore, the Cowboys are sending players in waves, and keeping the stars from having to shoulder too heavy a workload. Parsons was on the field for 87% of the snaps in the game, which is understandable given how much of an impact he makes, but Lawrence stayed fresh, only seeing 51% of the defensive snaps, which makes his effect even more impressive.
Even when the opposing quarterbacks manage to get a pass off, they are not getting much done. Zach Wilson only managed 170 yards passing, and 68 of those came on the one glaring breakdown by the Dallas defense when Garrett Wilson tore through them to take it to the house for the only Jets touchdown of the game. Outside that play, the secondary has been almost impenetrable, especially Trevon Diggs.
#Cowboys CB Trevon Diggs has allowed just 26 yards on 8 targets through two games, according to @PFF.
He’s also forced three turnovers.
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) September 18, 2023
Through 2 games the passer rating when targeting #Cowboys CB Trevon Diggs is 1.0
The passer rating of throwing the ball at the dirt every play is 39.6.
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) September 18, 2023
That second factoid is both incredibly impressive and a bit hilarious.
One thing the Cowboys focused on coming into this season was being better against the run. They were very stingy against the Jets, allowing only 64 yards on the ground. Most of those were by Zach Wilson, who picked up 36, mostly evading the pass rush. No other rusher got more than nine yards in the game. That is after limiting Saquon Barkley to just 51 yards in week one, and seeing Daniel Jones as a big part of the Giant’s rushing game with 43 yards. That is good news. It is partly due to getting and building the lead, forcing the other team to go to the air to try and get back into the game, but there is a surprise in the snap counts this week. The team took Mazi Smith in the first round to go along with Johnathan Hankins, giving them two big NT types to stuff the middle of the line on running plays. But neither played a major role this week, with Smith seeing only 11 snaps, and Hankins just 10. Only Hankins made the stat sheet with a lone tackle. Dan Quinn has so far figured out how to stop the run even with the personnel on the field that are more for pass defense. This is a good thing.
For the offense, it is about efficiency – which still needs to improve
One thing jumps out from the stats, not in a good way. The Cowboys were only two for six in the red zone. They marched up and down the field all game, only to stall repeatedly near the goal line and have to settle for three. Bryan Anger was only called on to punt three times, while Dallas was converting 50% of third downs, including multiple third and longs.
Dak Prescott had a remarkable game, completing his first thirteen pass attempts and finishing up 31 for 38 on the day, with two touchdown passes to tight ends Jake Ferguson and rookie Luke Schoonmaker. More importantly, he still has not thrown an interception this season, although he had one pass that should have been picked off against the Jets. The much ballyhooed knock on him last season was his league leading INT total. That looks to be well on the way to becoming a non-factor. Credit both the QB and Mike McCarthy. The Texas Coast offense was working well on Sunday, with a lot of uptempo play-calling and fast releases. Prescott was actually a good bit slower getting the ball out this week compared to the season opener. But he still ranks fifth in the NFL in time to throw, which is a key element of the new offensive approach.
And this is just a thing of ball control offense beauty.
On the receiving end, this game was the CeeDee Lamb show, as the top receiver had 143 yards on eleven catches, which was a 13.0 yard per catch pace. There were only two intended passes to Lamb that didn’t connect. He is the clear number one, especially in a game where Brandin Cooks sat out with an injury. Outside of Lamb, Tony Pollard was the next most active target, with seven catches on eight targets. His production was not nearly as much, but that is more evidence of how McCarthy’s approach has changed the offense.
On a minor but pleasing note, Deuce Vaughn showed he can be effective in the pro game. While only seeing the field for thirteen offensive plays, he had three carries for sixteen yards, and brought in all three of the passes he was targeted on for another sixteen. In the same nice-to-see category is a player from last year many thought was woefully underutilized on offense, KaVontae Turpin.
Dallas Cowboys WR KaVontae Turpin
– 2022 (17 games): 3 rushing attempts, 2 targets
– 2023 (2 games): 5 rushing attempts, 4 targets
— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) September 18, 2023
Turpin only accounted for fifteen yards of offense, but is proving to be valuable depth at wide receiver and also serves as a change of pace option.
While we are mentioning rushing the ball, it should be noted that Tony Pollard has been a model of consistency so far this year. While he is not getting a lot of big gains, he had 72 yards against the Jets to go with his 70 versus the Giants. That would project to a bit over 1,200 yards this season, and I think we’ll all take that.
Wait, do the Cowboys have offensive line depth after all?
Tyler Smith sat out his second game. One of the gloomy concerns we had for this year was a lack of depth for the offensive line, and this was seen as a big issue with the way the Jets’ defense had mauled the Buffalo Bills in their season opener. But Chuma Edoga has filled in admirably for Smith. Then things got worse when Edoga had to leave the game at halftime with what has been reported by EVP Stephen Jones as a hyperextended elbow that is not expected to keep him out long. That forced UDFA T.J. Bass to play 42 snaps in the second half, or 48% of the offensive total.
No problem. Prescott was only sacked once all game, the Cowboys put up 134 yards rushing, and they cruised to a 2-0 start on the season. Smith should be back soon, and meanwhile one of the best OTs in team history looks to be back to his old self.
#Cowboys LT Tyron Smith has allowed just one pressure on 136 total snaps through Week 2, according to @PFF.
He is officially back.
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) September 18, 2023
We still will worry about the health of the offensive line, but it is certainly going better than we could have imagined – so far.
Let’s talk ball control
One major problem facing the Jets was that they just didn’t have many opportunities with the ball. The number of offensive plays was incredibly lopsided in the Cowboys’ favor, 83 to 46. That is a total number of plays run by Dallas you expect to see in college football, not the NFL. It led to an even more pronounced advantage in time of possession, 42:15 to 17:45. That made it all but impossible for the Jets to have any chance of winning this game.
There were multiple things contributing to this. The ability of Dallas to keep moving the sticks was of course huge, while the way the defense kept getting off the field with third-down stops was just as crucial. The Jets only converted one-third down attempt out of ten, and just managed twelve first downs the entire game, to 26 for the Cowboys. Add in the four takeaways, and the Jets barely had time to work up a sweat on offense while their defense was wearing down from being on the field so much.
I will submit that this also played a big role in the sometimes conservative play-calling by Mike McCarthy. He could see how his team was keeping the ball away from the other team, with the long touchdown and a two-minute drive to kick their lone field goal just before halftime about all the offense the Jets mustered all game. Once the Cowboys got to a two score game in the second half, he felt confident that Dan Quinn had things well in hand on defense. He kept electing to kick field goals because it just widened the lead. While it would have been fun to see another 40-burger, 30 points will win a lot of NFL games, especially when your defense is just throttling the other team. This looked to be like a game where McCarthy was playing chess, and sometimes the conservative approach is exactly what is needed.
Speaking of those field goals…
One other thing we were fretting about coming into this season was putting the place kicking on the foot of Brandon Aubrey. There was a moment of angst when he missed his first extra point attempt of the year, but since then he has hit everything, and had a standout game against the Jets, going five for five on field goals, including a long of 55 that he made look easy. He added one extra point to account for sixteen of the team’s point total. As with everything here, it is still early in the year, and we will see how the consistency holds up. But that was an impressive performance from Aubrey.
Originally posted on Blogging The Boys