The Jaguars are coming off of a big win over the AFC South-leading Tennessee Titans, but the Cowboys offer a lot of different challenges. We reached out to Dave Halprin from Blogging The Boys — SB Nation’s home for all things Cowboys — to learn more about this year’s Dallas team.
What has gone well for the Cowboys, snd what has not? Is Mike McCarthy the right coach for the job? Which players will make a difference for Dallas on Sunday? Dave discusses these topics and more.
1. At 10-3, what has worked for the Cowboys? What does the team need to get better at?
Dave: A lot has worked really well for the Cowboys this season. One thing that has been pretty consistent for the year has been the defense. They have a ferocious pass rush that creates a lot of havoc in the opposition’s backfield. Players like Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence and Dorance Armstrong have had great seasons. The Cowboys’ secondary was also very good, but they’ve been hit by injury in the past month, so there is some concern there. The offensive line and run game have also had good seasons. When the Cowboys can run the ball, their offense becomes very hard to stop. The stable of tight ends has also been effective in the passing game and as blockers. Finally, the special teams have been a plus with kicker Brett Maher having a very good year and kick returner KaVontae Turpin a threat on any return.
Where the team needs to get better is controlling the opposition’s running game, something they have gotten better at recently. For much of the year that was the real weak point for the Cowboys, but once they got defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, things got better. Unfortunately he got hurt last week and will miss the rest of the regular season. So we’ll have to see how they do without him. The Cowboys, and Dak Prescott, also have too many interceptions lately. It’s been a combination of bad decisions by Prescott, poor route running by receivers, and pressure allowed from the offensive line. It really hurt them last week.
2. How has quarterback Dak Prescott played since returning from his injury? How far can this team go this year with Prescott at the helm?
Dave: As mentioned above, Prescott has had some interceptions issues that he normally does not have, and it’s something he has said he needs to clean up. But, even with that, he’s had the Cowboys offense playing very well since his return. Before last week’s struggles against the Texans, the Dallas offense was first or second in the NFL in many categories since Prescott’s return. He has two games with 40 or more points and another where the team scored over 50 points. It’s in vogue for some national media personalities to say that Prescott is the Cowboys’ problem, but that is simply wrong. Prescott is not an issue and he won’t be the thing that limits them from going where they want to go.
3. Obviously Prescott, running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, and wide receiver CeeDee Lamb are the big names for the Cowboys on offense. Are there any under-the-radar players to watch for offensively?
Dave: Tight end Dalton Schultz and wide receiver Noah Brown have been vital components for the Cowboys on offense at different times this year, and both came up big last week against the Texans, especially on the game-winning drive. Prescott really trusts Schultz, and utilizes him a lot over the middle of the field. Brown is the third receiver that was prominent in the early games of the season, though he has been hit or miss lately, but still remains a vital part of the offense.
The Cowboys are working receiver James Washington back in the mix, he played his first game last week after missing all of the season with injury. It also remains to be seen if they give newly-signed receiver T.Y. Hilton some run in this game. They could be assets the rest of the way.
4. Who are the difference-makers on defense?
Dave: The trio of Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence and Dorance Armstong have been the headliners with the pass rush. They are the guys that bring the pressure and make the splash plays on defense. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has had a very good year stopping the run, and cornerback Trevon Diggs is one of the best in the league. But watch out for the safeties, especially Donovan Wilson and Jayron Kearse. They make plays in the run game and the passing game, and are threats to blitz. The Cowboys are an aggressive defense that likes to create turnovers.
5. What are the general thoughts from Dallas fans on head coach Mike McCarthy and his staff? Is the right staff for now and in the future?
It’s hard to argue much against the job McCarthy and his staff have done. They lost Prescott for five games in the early part of the year, and they went 4-1 with a backup quarterback. McCarthy has preached resilience and overcoming adversity all year and that message seems to have taken hold with the team.
The players for the Cowboys really seem to like playing for McCarthy and he is getting the best out of them so far. Coordinators Kellen Moore and Dan Quinn are also doing outstanding jobs. Moore has been rotating Elliott and Pollard at running back and it has worked. He also changed the offense some when Cooper Rush was the quarterback, and that allowed the team to keep winning. And Quinn’s defense has just been incredible all year. It’s very likely he is a head coach elsewhere in the 2023 season.
6. According to the DraftKings Sportsbook, the Cowboys are currently four-point favorites and the over/under is set at 48. Will Dallas cover, are you taking the over or the under and what is your final score prediction?
I don’t think I’m going to take the over. The Cowboys are not as comfortable on grass fields as they are on turf. Also, they just lost their right tackle for the season and it might be Tyron Smith’s first game back at left tackle after missing all season with injury. There will be some continuity lost on the offensive line, and some rustiness could occur. This could slow the Cowboys down on offense. The Dallas defense is superb at limiting points, so I will take the Cowboys 23-21 in a close game where they do not cover.
Thank you to Dave for providing insights and analysis regarding Dallas. For more news on the Cowboys, please follow Blogging The Boys.