It’s amazing the difference a year can make. The 2020 Dallas Cowboys and this year’s team are night and day. What was a team marred by injuries and lackluster play on both sides of the ball has become one of the best, most complete teams in the NFC.
Despite the Cowboys continuing to work through short-term injuries like DeMarcus Lawrence, the advancement in one season is inspiring. Things that hurt the team last year are now area’s that are thriving and among the best in the NFL.
The first thing that comes to mind is the secondary. Trevon Diggs has taken that next step to being a true CB1 in the league. Through three games he’s the 14th highest graded corner back according to PFF. He’s got a league-high in interceptions (3) and passes defended (6).
However, it’s not the cornerback position that’s the most surprising. It’s the elevated play at the safety position. Donovan Wilson has missed the last two games after a good start to the season. In his place, a rotation of Malik Hooker, Damontae Kazee and Jayron Kearse are showing great coverage ability down the field.
"I appreciate everybody that will give me credit for the play, but it won’t show up on the stat sheet." — Jayron Kearse, 9/19/21pic.twitter.com/YMjzqtr74K
— Mark Lane (@therealmarklane) September 22, 2021
It looks like the front office has learned from their mistakes in not taking the safety position seriously enough. All of the safety’s have cap figures under $1 million, which the front office’s MO. Everybody wins.
Another thing the front office does is invest draft capital in the defensive line. The Dallas Cowboys played 4 different rookie draft picks on the defensive line on Monday Night Football. The results were fantastic overall:
Micah Parsons (played DE) – 4 pressures, 3 QB hurries, 1 sack
Osa Odighizuwa – 4 pressures, 4 QB hurries, 2 sacks
Chauncey Golston – 2 pressures, 2 hurries, 3 tackles
Quinton Bohanna – 1 pressure, 2 tackles
Osa Odighizuwa (@Osagoeshard) plays run first, then rushes the passer. He snakes his outside hand through & works a chop/rip for the sack. Disciplined, technical & dangerous! #passrush #cowboys @BloggingTheBoys pic.twitter.com/WnSLRxO4p9
— DLineVids (@dlinevids1) September 28, 2021
The team is having an outpouring of play from the defensive line rotation. Whether it’s the rookies or veterans like Randy Gregory or Tarell Basham.
The defensive line is applying more pressure than we saw last year and have seemingly fixed their run defense, ranked 6th against the run.
Offensively, however, the run game has been much better so far. Giving both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard their fair share of the carries has opened the offense. Rather than simply ‘feeding Zeke’, Kellen Moore is making a statement that each week’s offensive game plan will be different.
To date, Ezekiel Elliott has 44 rush attempts for 199 yards and 3 touchdowns, and has caught all 7 targets for 53 yards. While Tony Pollard has 27 carries for 183 yards and a touchdown, and has caught all 8 of his targets for 65 yards.
Tony Pollard. Cowboys RB1.pic.twitter.com/W5R510ozkG
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) September 19, 2021
This a welcomed sign after last season when Elliott had his worst season of his career, finishing under 1,000 yards rushing with 6 fumbles.
At the rate these two are going, both running backs could finish with over 1,000 yards rushing. Don’t expect every game to be like the Chargers or Eagles where the offensive game plan will be heavily focused on the run game.
The Dallas Cowboys play 5 more games this season against defenses ranked in the top half of the league against the run. There will be games when neither Elliott or Pollard get a heavy dose of carries, but the way the offense has looked with them both on the field has well surpassed the way they it looked in 2020.
All of these areas were heavily focused on in the offseason as weaknesses. Even though the season is still young, the Dallas Cowboys are seeing a nice return on investment from the improved play.
At the rate this team is going, they should only get better.