Monday, September 25, 2023 Sep 25, 2023
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Dallas Cowboys Week 2 Checklist: What Got Accomplished Versus Cincinnati

The season stays alive in dramatic fashion.
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What, you were expecting some other kicker to be automatic in the clutch? Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys won their first game of the season in dramatic fashion, with Brett Maher’s 50-yard field goal sealing a 20-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals as time expired. Here’s what else got accomplished Sunday.

Validated the Front Office’s Thinking (For a Little While)

Throughout the offseason, you’ve read a lot of words here about the Cowboys offseason. Few of them were complimentary.  

In this regard, we weren’t terribly unique. Hardly anyone liked this Cowboys offseason because there was hardly anything to like. How could there be when they entered the season with a roster cheaper and less talented than it was a year ago as Dak Prescott inches a year closer to 30 and Mike McCarthy likely coaches for his job?

So one can only imagine the smirks filling the owner’s suite during the first 30 minutes of gameplay, when just about every margin call broke Dallas’ way.

Out came Cooper Rush, no one’s idea of a premium backup but the Cowboys’, marshaling the offense to a 17-3 lead over the Super Bowl runners-up. Nobody was more productive in the receiving game than Noah Brown, part of the in-house cadre that allowed Dallas to trade Amari Cooper for a pittance and only make a casual effort to replace him from the outside.

Micah Parsons julienned ex-Cowboys right tackle La’el Collins off the edge while Collins’ replacement, Terence Steele, earned high marks on the CBS telecast for the bulldozing block that helped Tony Pollard scamper into the endzone for Dallas’ second touchdown.

Meanwhile, Randy Gregory couldn’t have been less missed. Dorance Armstrong notched two sacks while Dante Fowler forced a fumble. Anthony Barr put up a tackle for loss while rookie Sam Williams made a nuisance of himself.

On special teams, KaVontae Turpin flashed on a punt return while the embattled Maher drilled every kick he attempted.

For two glorious quarters, every ill-conceived idea was coming up Jones, the roulette pill landing on the Cowboys’ number at each spin of the wheel.

And then reality set in.

The second half of this game was closer to last week’s letdown than the suddenly assertive Cowboys team that flew out of the gate against Cincinnati—and for good reason. This is still a team that’s deficient on offense, and the defense can only be asked to shoulder so much to compensate. Rush, for all his moxie and composure on what’s now his second game-winning drive in as many starts, is a 28-year-old journeyman for a reason. Brown has progressed every season and may be flirting with a real role in this passing game, but 26-year-old late-round draft picks don’t tend to rocket into stardom in their sixth NFL seasons. Kellen Moore’s offense, once so lethal, has fallen into enough lulls since the second half of last year that it can no longer be treated as an aberration.

Blend those elements together and you begin to understand how Dallas exited this game having outgained the Bengals (337 yards to 254) and putting up nearly two more yards per play (5.7 to 3.8) but losing the time of possession—and nearly the ballgame—by seven and a half minutes. Cincinnati’s marathon 19-play fourth-quarter touchdown drive, in particular, was talent breaking through as the Cowboys defense finally wore down.

Which is the sort of thing that’s liable to happen when one unit is so much more capable than the other. The game clock ran out before the Cowboys’ weakness could be exploited the way it was against the Buccaneers, but that will happen again unless real fixes are made.

Got Reminded About What They Lost

The Cleveland Browns always figured to be bad through the duration of Deshaun Watson’s 11-game suspension, so their heartbreaking 31-30 loss to the New York Jets didn’t come as a major surprise. What might have is how the passing offense got humming … because Amari Cooper made it hum. The ex-Cowboy caught all nine of his targets for 101 yards and a touchdown, which led to this:

Hm, yes, not ideal. Especially not with rookie Jalen Tolbert, the key name expected to assume some of Cooper’s workload alongside CeeDee Lamb and (eventually) Michael Gallup, once again inactive.

The Cowboys have three and a half more months of football to play. Solutions, Tolbert or otherwise, may well emerge. But Cooper’s importance transcended his ceiling, which is higher than any non-Lamb option in Dallas. He provided certainty: as the Cowboys offense finds its sea legs behind a fragmented offensive line and playing the waiting game for Gallup to rejoin the receiving corps, it could at least lean on two high-level pass catchers along the way.

How much could Cooper’s presence have helped in the second half, when three of Dallas five’ drives lasted one series? What could it have done to free up Lamb, who has yet to emerge as the alpha this team needs him to become?

Something tells me this won’t be the last time we ask ourselves those questions.

Called the Power Company


Was that horrible? Feels fairly horrible.

But I refuse to delete it because how else do you describe this?

Note the play design in the first clip, too. No jet sweeps, no gimmicks. Just a quick pitch to Dallas’ most explosive weapon in space, and Pollard does the rest. Sometimes football doesn’t need to be hard.

Looked Maher-velous

Apparently awful puns are my thing now, which is a special disservice to Dallas’ suddenly automatic kicker. My position on Maher is public record. Everything about this reeks of the Cowboys stumbling into a solution instead of creating one, and endemic process failures continue to hold this organization back.

Hence my writing the following last month:

All of which is before the additional element of failure that comes if Maher makes the roster, either through more awful results on the field or satisfactory ones that the organization can take as an endorsement of its original broken strategy.

Right now, we’re firmly veering toward the latter, as Maher has made all three of his field-goal attempts, each of which has come from 50 or more yards.

But that doesn’t mean the player should be dinged alongside his employer. Somehow, some way, Maher has been a dependable kicker since he re-emerged in New Orleans last season as an injury replacement. Which means, along with Turpin—whose fourth-quarter punt return helped set up Maher’s game-winning 50-yarder—and Pro Bowl punter Bryan Anger, Dallas’ special teams is back to a strength until further notice. Score one for the offseason, after all.

Gave Themselves Something to Play For

Set aside, for a moment, how they got there. The second-half sugar crash, the usual swath of drive-extending penalties, the turnover well running dry—all of it.  

The Cowboys are alive. Allow radio color man (and StrongSide Vibe Check correspondent) Babe Laufenberg to explain why:

Note those percentages. This does not mean that Dallas is in good shape or that it will be able to iron out enough obvious kinks over the next 16 regular-season weeks. Every missed Prescott game heightens the chances of the Cowboys digging too deep a hole too early to climb out of when the weather turns cold and the pressure ratchets up.

But for this week, at least, the Cowboys have bought time for QB1’s return, whether that’s next Monday—as Stephen Jones claims is possible, which suggests Prescott has Wolverine-esque healing powers—or further down the line. The season is not over as soon as it started. The games still matter.

That may be the lowest possible bar. But given where they were seven days ago, clearing it is no small thing, however awkward the leap was.  


Mike Piellucci

Mike Piellucci

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Mike Piellucci is D Magazine's sports editor. He is a former staffer at The Athletic and VICE, and his freelance…

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