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Football

The Cowboys Are Fun as Hell, And Not Just Because of That Eagles Beatdown

Dallas is delivering something different from what I've experienced my entire adult life. Let's take a stock of what that is.
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Jake Ferguson's emergence is just one of many reasons why Dallas is soaring. Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Dating back to the start of the 2021 season, no team has won more regular-season games than the Dallas Cowboys. Only Kansas City can match Dallas’ 34-13 record in that span, and while the Chiefs have significantly more postseason success to show for it, the fact remains that no team has won at a higher clip in the regular season than Mike McCarthy’s Cowboys.

And none of those 34 wins are bigger than the victory the club left with Sunday night.

Dallas thumped Philadelphia in a way that put it on the map for true contention. They have the complete package. Their quarterback is playing at an MVP level. Dak Prescott, whom I had absolutely written off as “good but not great,” is playing like the best football player on the planet right now. He currently has the lowest percentage of “turnover-worthy plays,” per Pro Football Focus, while also posting the fifth-highest yards per attempt of all starters. Prescott has always had a command and confidence in the way he operates this offense, but this is different. I can give you stats all day, but at some point, even I have to just give up on the math and say: you can just feel it. 

They have a true No. 1 wide receiver who is playing like an All-Pro. CeeDee Lamb cannot be consistently covered. This is an absolute necessity for any team serious about Super Bowl contention. Just look at what is happening with Kansas City right now: great defense, special quarterback, in serious trouble without a go-to WR1. 

Meanwhile, Jake Ferguson currently has two fewer catches and one fewer touchdowns than George Kittle this season. He has emerged as a real chain-moving threat, with the sixth-most first down receptions of all tight ends. Dalton Schultz was a nice player; Ferguson has the chance to be a game-changer. (As an aside, as you watch Ferguson’s emergence, it makes you wonder why Dallas felt the need to draft Luke Schoonmaker in the second round this year—but now is not the time for complaints.) 

They’ve been relatively lucky regarding injuries, nowhere more so than left tackle, where Tyron Smith has appeared in 10 of 13 games and is currently PFF’s highest-graded offensive lineman in pass protection. Given how much his body has been through, and how many games he’s missed, I’m not sure anyone saw this coming. But the best tackle in franchise history is playing some of his best ball ever, and the player alongside him, Tyler Smith, has surrendered the sixth-lowest pressure rate in the NFL this year.

It isn’t quite as headline-grabbing as the others, but they also have the best kicker in football right now. The Brandon Aubrey story is a remarkable one; kicker streaks can come and go, but as Dan Morse showed this morning, the former Notre Dame soccer star is delivering far more than just that. Playoff games are won by close margins. Until further notice, Dallas has one of the best deciders in the sport. 

And the defense? Well, what can you say at this point? I didn’t think Dan Quinn would be back this year, and I suppose I’m going to continue to expect that he’ll be gone every year. He’s too accomplished, and good coaches are too hard to find, for him to remain a coordinator for the rest of his career. But every year he’s here virtually guarantees Dallas will be elite on his side of the ball. 

Lo and behold, Quinn’s side currently ranks third in EPA/play allowed. They continue to lead the league in pressure rate, and they have players stepping up all over the place. Markquese Bell is a second-year undrafted free agent; Stephon Gilmore is a 12-year veteran Dallas acquired in an offseason trade. Those were the two best defensive players that suited up for Dallas Sunday night. In more obvious news, Micah Parsons had five pressures, while Demarcus Lawrence turned in six. Just like Lamb is nearly impossible to cover, the Cowboys’ edge rushers are nearly impossible to block. They combined with Gilmore, DaRon Bland, and that deep crew of safeties to hold A.J. Brown, Devonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert—one of the league’s premier pass-catching trios—to under 200 yards combined.

So if we want to take inventory, the Cowboys have: a quarterback playing the best ball of his career, a wide receiver reaching his peak, a tight end on the verge of a breakout, a healthy, high-performing offensive line, the best kicker in the league, and an overqualified assistant coach that, combined with McCarthy, might equal the best braintrust in pro football.

It just feels as if a number of components are crystallizing for the Cowboys to threaten in a way they haven’t been able to in a very, very long time. That’s highly subjective; I get it. But the vibe is just different. It doesn’t feel like a team of factions, like many of the Tony Romo squads did. I’m not blaming Romo for that, nor am I blaming Jason Garrett for that. Sometimes a collection of individuals just doesn’t work out when trying to pull in the same direction. But this group does seem different. There is a healthy respect but rivalry between the offense and defense. Years ago, a friend of mine who played quarterback in college remarked to me how much the defense seemed to love Prescott. That is not necessarily common, but it is also indispensable if it occurs.

And because of that, it’s fine to believe they can do this. Let yourself believe. Allow yourself to buy in, or buy back in. This is the most fun Dallas Cowboys team of my adulthood. They play for each other. They have a fun offense. They have a defense that doesn’t sit back and wait. They dictate. Almost every play of a Dallas Cowboys football game right now has the potential to be fun. However this season ends, you aren’t going to get many years like this. 

Author

Jake Kemp

Jake Kemp

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Jake Kemp covers the Cowboys and Mavericks for StrongSide. He is a lifelong Dallas sports fan who previously worked for…
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