Dallas Week I is here, y’all. We know plenty about this team. Probably too much. Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliot, offensive line of the century, etc. etc. etc. But we don’t watch every play, every week, so to get a more informed take on the team, I reached out to David Halprin of Blogging The Boys for some insight.
Here’s what we talked about:
1. So, the NFC East is Cowboys-Eagles again, huh? Are you surprised to see these two teams back on top of the division so quickly?
In some ways I am surprised by the Cowboys, but in others - not so much. Coming into the season, before Tony Romo's injury, Dallas was definitely among the picks to win the division. Washington wasn't a prohibitive favorite even though they won last year, New York was rebuilding with a bunch of free agents and Philadelphia was breaking in a new coach and totally revamping their system. So there was some sentiment that Dallas could win the East, pre-Romo injury. The thought was that with Romo back they would be more like the 2014 version of the team that went 12-4. It is surprising now for the Cowboys just because without Romo most people would have assumed that Dallas would have totally tanked. No one had any idea that Dak Prescott would do what he has done, and without Romo the Cowboys were a disaster last season. So once the injury to Romo hit, it was assumed Dallas would struggle.So that part is surprising.
I am totally surprised by the Eagles though, with all the change-over in the coaching staff and the move from Chip Kelly's system. I thought that alone would hold the team back for this season. Then when they decided to trade Sam Bradford and put a rookie in charge, it felt like they were saying we're re-building this year, looking to the future. But like Prescott, Carson Wentz is proving his worth, and the defense is still there, so here we stand with a huge battle this Sunday night for the NFC East lead.
2. Dak Prescott has been astoundingly good for a fourth-round draft pick. If you had to pick two keys to his success so far, what would they be?
First would be his poise as a quarterback. Not for one moment has he looked overwhelmed, panicky or anything you might associate with a rookie quarterback. He is very calm in the pocket, doesn't get happy-feet when the pressure comes and doesn't take his eyes off the receivers. He stands tall until the last moment (he will run but only when required) and generally makes good reads. When you stay calm under pressure and make good reads, you don't throw interceptions. And when things are going bad, he doesn't press or get emotional, he's very calm and stays with the game plan. His poise looks like he's been an NFL quarterback for five years or more.
The other is his accuracy. We were led to believe that this was an issue for him coming out of college, and that his footwork and mechanics could totally fall apart at times, but that hasn't been the case for the most part. Like every quarterback he has times when his mechanics falter, but in general he's been a very accurate passer. Not only does he have a great completion percentage, but he's setting guys up to run after the catch. He's also improving his touch on deep balls.
3. The coverage of the Cowboys this year has focused on their offense. What kind of defense is Carson Wentz going to be facing on Sunday night? What do they do well, and where are they lacking?
The Cowboys are a bend-don't-break defense. If you looked at most of the stats, conventional and advanced, you would conclude they are not a very good defense. They give up a lot of yards in the passing game, they are only average in getting turnovers, and they aren't particularly good about pressuring the quarterback and getting sacks.
You look at all these metrics and you'd think that the Cowboys offense is forced to win shootout after shootout. But that's not the case because the Cowboys defense is seventh in the league in points allowed at 17.8 a game. So how do they manage this? They force offenses to work hard for their points by limiting home runs plays, they keep plays in front of them, they are sure tacklers and they rally to the ball very well. Hustle, a low amount of penalties, and few busted assignments make opposing offenses work hard. They are also helped by an offense that controls the clock and limits the number of drives for an opposing offense. The Cowboys’ defense is not going to be spectacular, and they aren't going to cause a whole bunch of three and outs, but they will be smart, disciplined and they will hustle.
4. Do the Cowboys have a glaring weakness? Most 5-1 teams are nice and well-rounded. Where are their shortcomings?
I think the Cowboys weakness is on defense as mentioned above. They are not very good at generating pressure/sacking the quarterback, so a team can flood the defense with receivers instead of worrying about keeping in blockers at tight end and running back. The Cowboys have handled this well so far, the secondary is playing much better than it ever has, but there are plays to be had. A team that is disciplined, that doesn't take penalties, and values the football can probably do some damage.
Teams also seem to abandon the run much too soon against the Cowboys, sticking with a run game could help. Be patient and disciplined. The other thing I would do is put as much pressure on the Cowboys offensive backfield as possible. Not only try to move Prescott off his spot, but don't let the holes open up for Ezekiel Elliott. The only way to really slow down the Cowboys offense is to disrupt the action in the backfield.
5. The big one, of course: how do Cowboys fans feel about the prospect of putting Tony Romo back in when he's healthy? I think it would be a terrible decision. What say you all?
There is no universal opinion on this subject. I think early on in the season there was pretty much a consensus that when Romo got healthy the Cowboys should put him back in as starter. But as the weeks roll on, the opinion has started to move. With Prescott playing so well, and with the Cowboys winning, there's a strong sentiment for not messing with something that is working.
The Cowboys front office has mirrored this evolution of opinion, going from firmly committing to a Romo return, to being very non-committal and evasive in their answers. There's a feeling that Romo's full recovery could "take a long time" (wink, wink) as the Cowboys try to put off the decision as long as possible. It will be tough on everybody to tell Romo he's now a backup quarterback until further notice. Personally, as long as Prescott is playing like he is and the Cowboys are winning, I think you have to leave things just as they are, and I'm pretty sure that's where the Cowboys are at as an organization.
BONUS: Who wins, and what's the score?
Cowboys win, 27-20.