Column: Dallas Cowboys mid-season looks

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Jayden Conley

As the Dallas Cowboys move further into the back hand of the season, they are looking for bigger pictures for the future. The Cowboys are in hopes for a playoff run and even a chance to the Super Bowl. “I’ve been watching the Cowboys all season, and I’m concerned about their inconsistency,” junior and sports writer Jayden Conley said. “I think they have a chance to make a good run but they need to fix up the little things.”

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The Dallas Cowboys have played 12 games so far in the new 17-game, 18-week season. After the first game of the season Sept. 9 against the reigning Super Bowl Champions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Cowboys fought hard but came out with an unfortunate loss, 29-31.

The Cowboys proceeded to g0 on a six-game win streak playing the Los Angeles Chargers, Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers, New York Giants, New England Patriots and the Minnesota Vikings. They were looking like real Super Bowl contenders for once – that was before they’ve been struck with countless injuries and COVID-19 cases.

They’re 2-3 coming out of their bye week in week 7, all of which those games had at least one starter out:

Quarterback Dak Prescott was out against the Vikings with a calf strain. The Cowboys, fortunately, won with Cooper Rush in his first start in the National Football League. Rush threw for 325 passing yards, 2 touchdowns and had a 92.2 passer rating which is extremely good for a backup quarterback.

Next week against the Denver Broncos, offensive tackle Tyron Smith was out with an ankle injury. Smith is one of the key components to that Cowboy offensive front. Both starting wide receivers Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb were originally set on the injured list but proceeded to play through their injuries.

Against the Atlanta Falcons, running back Ezekiel Elliot was playing through a knee injury. End Randy Gregory was placed on the injured reserve due to a calf injury, which sets him ineligible for the next three games. Cooper continued to play through a rib and hip injury.

Then against the Kansas City Chiefs and Las Vegas Raiders, both Cooper and Lamb did not play due to Cooper being on the COVID list and Lamb getting a concussion in the middle of the second quarter of the Chiefs game.

The Cowboys have gone through a lot, and those injuries and illnesses aren’t excuses to their absence of play, but it takes a toll running through rotations with players you’ve hardly ever played with. They’re still top in the NFC East, which isn’t saying much considering last season the Washington Football Team, who went 7-9, won the division last year and was amongst the few teams ever to make a wild card appearance with a losing record.

Despite all the injuries and illnesses and the recent absence of play, let’s take a look at the greater good of this season:

Defensively, the Cowboys have been on a tear on the secondary side of things. Cornerback Trevon Diggs, a second-year player, has amassed himself a total of 9 interceptions this year. Diggs is making his mark as a top-tier defensive back in the league, gaining elite status not only in the league but the Cowboys franchise as a whole.

Another player to be mentioned is rookie linebacker, Micah Parsons, who has been the most consistent defensive threat, setting a new Cowboy record for the most sacks performed by a rookie in a season. He’s been playing with freight train energy, unstoppable.

He won Defensive Rookie of the Month for the month of November, because of his defensive onslaught on the line. Parsons has been placed in the Defensive Player of the Year(DPOY).

Many sports analytics would even tell you that Parsons deserves to be in the MVP race as well, unfortunately, the MVP is more for a QB, but when you have a young superstar playing like Aaron Donald on the line, it’s extremely difficult to count him out of the talk

Here are his overall stats so far this season:

He has a combined total of 72 tackles, 18 assisted tackles, 10 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. Parsons is on the verge of beating the rookie sack record of 14.5 held by Jevon Kearse, the uncle of Cowboys safety, Jayron Kearse.

Speaking of Jayron Kearse, he’s also been someone who the Cowboy’s secondary can rely on.

He has a combined total of 88 tackles and 57 solo tackles, 31 assisted tackles with 2 interceptions.

Overall the Cowboy’s defense has been improved, they were ranked 27th in the league for the 2020-2021 season where they went 6-10. They have improved by 15 rankings by putting them in 12th in the league.

Offensively Prescott has been inconsistent after his calf strain in week 7, but he’s still been producing great numbers for this Cowboy’s offense throwing for a total of 3381 passing yards and a total of 24 touchdowns. He has a QB rating of 98.1 which ranks him within the top 10 QB’s with a high QBR.

Ceedee Lamb has been a key component to the Cowboy’s wide receiver core by amassing himself a total of 890 receiving yards alongside having around 384 yards after the catch with 6 touchdowns on the year. Lamb averages about 74.2 yards per game and 13.9 yards per reception, which is the most by any receiver 0n the Cowboy’s offense.

Another name to be mentioned is Amari Cooper. Cooper has been playing fantastically, and he has gotten more and more targets throughout recent games which have helped push the offense more. He has a total of 675 receiving yards and 201 yards after catch alongside having 6 touchdowns. He averages roughly 61.4 yards per game and 13.2 yards per reception.

A shocker to many throughout this season is Tony Pollard’s ability to play the ball with versatility and elusiveness. Many have wondered if he should be the starter instead of Ezekiel Elliot.

The short answer is no.

The longer answer is a possibility, considering he’s been averaging 50.2 yards per game and 5.6 yards per carry. Those numbers are extremely high for taking fewer amount of snaps than Zeke. Although he’s only gotten himself 2 rushing touchdowns whereas Elliot has gotten 8.

Pollard isn’t able to get the easy yardage that the Cowboys need offensively. It would require a new set offensive approach to try and surround their play style around him, which would be too much effort for something that really wouldn’t add much difference.

Whereas Elliot is more of a powerful and elusive back where he is able to get the easier yardage while also being able to block for Prescott on a passing play. Overall this makes him more of a liable asset to take charge of the starting job. He’s been getting better and better, despite dealing with a knee injury, he continues to fight through it and perform an average of 62.3 yards per game.

The Cowboys still have a great chance to get 1st seed in the NFC. They will definitely win their division, so they are guaranteed at least a wild card spot in the playoffs.

The only matter is knowing if their offense is going to choke and be inconsistent when it comes to important moments in the playoffs. They have a history of choking under pressure and allowing teams to come back for no reason.

Yet arguing that “defense wins championships” is a complete lie, because without the offense backing up the defense and scoring points, they will lose. Simple. Playing both sides of the ball and taking advantage of the opportunities given, will allow them a better chance of winning, than just playing defense.

In order for any of that to happen though, Dak Prescott and his offense need to step it up to the level of potential that they have, because relying on the defense only gets you so far when trying to make a run to the Super Bowl, and finally, prove your fans right when they say “This is our year.”

Cowboys have overall played far better this season than in recent years, but unfortunately, they are still not the old Cowboys team with Pro Football Hall of Famers, Troy Aikman, Emmit Smith, Deion Sanders and Michael Irvin that all won 3 Super Bowls in the ’90s.

They still have a lot to work on to get to that level of play, but at the end of the day practice makes perfect.