Once upon a time, in a pre-smartphone era, there were these three digits that you could call if you needed to know someone's phone number: 4-1-1.
The Dallas Cowboys don't even need the last one there to know this information... they are 4-1 and sitting atop the NFC East. Huzzah! Huzzah, I say!
Such glory was only made possible by the Cowboys impressive victory at home over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. We learned a lot about this team, and we're here now to discuss it all. Here are my 10 Takeaways From The Cowboys Monumental Win Against The Bengals.
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Ezekiel Elliott Is Living Up To The Hype... And Beyond
When the Cowboys took Ezekiel Elliott with the 4th Overall pick in the draft, the hype was unreal. You had Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and the best Offensive Line in the NFL. How was this kid not going to succeed?
Five games into his NFL career, Zeke has already played a ton of football without Romo, Dez, Tyron Smith, and La'el Collins... and he's still dominating. Sunday's game against the Bengals was just another example.
Zeke taking a knee by himself in the endzone. Feels like this dude is going OFF today.
15 carries, 134 yards, and 2 touchdowns. One of which was a 60-yard spring that Zeke ripped off in the third quarter. What young Ezekiel has done just five games into an NFL career is astounding. I'm so happy that he's ours!
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This Was The Best The Offensive Line Has Looked In A While
If we're being honest with ourselves we would likely admit that through the San Francisco win the Cowboys weren't playing like the best offensive line in the NFL. We all know that they are the best, it just hadn't happened.
On Sunday the Cowboys had their way with the Bengals. Remember that this team hadn't surrendered a single rushing touchdown before hitting the AT&T Stadium turf, but the Cowboys scored three on them. This O-Line has clicked and things are about to be fun.
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Terrance Williams Is Stepping Up
There are a handful of Cowboys that seem to be magnets for criticism in Twitterland and Facebook (if you choose to venture there), Terrance is undoubtedly among them. It's time for all of us to eat a little crow on this one and admit that T-Will is ballin' and being just what his rookie QuarterDAK needs in the absence of Dez Bryant. Way to go, Terrance!
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Jason Witten Is Stronger Than Average Humans
Have you ever thought you were strong enough to do something and failed? So have the Bengals.
When you think you can run through a wall #CowboysNation https://t.co/IVVQqHjofL
Jason Witten may have only had 3 catches for 43 yards - not to mention an insane shimmy move he put on a Cincy defender - but the dude is seriously superhuman. Witten refuses to show any signs of age, save for his occasional whoopsie during a game, and he is now at a point where he literally doesn't flinch at opponents. Bravo, sir.
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Dak Prescott Isn't Perfect After All
The Cowboys big-time rookie QB Dak Prescott still has yet to throw an interception in his career, an incredible achievement through five full games, but he did finally have his first turnover - a fumble.
In the world of truth this is a demerit for Dak, but overall he had a fantastic game. It's no secret how well Prescott has played on the way to a 4-1 record, but this fumble was a glaring indication that even he is susceptible to the occasional mistake. Oh well.
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Morris Claiborne Has Arrived
Considering that AJ Green - one of the NFL's best receivers - only finished with 4 catches for 50 yards, a lot of which came late, I'd say that the test was passed with flying colors. Mo Claiborne is out there locking up everything. He had a couple of just absolutely incredible pass break-ups that saved big plays for the Bengals, and he is arguably this team's Defensive MVP through five games.
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DeMarcus Lawrence's Impact Was Felt
The Cowboys managed to "bend but not break" through four games without their best pass rusher. Thankfully they got to play the Bengals with the full services of DeMarcus Lawrence at their disposal.
Lawrence may not have had a big box score day, but he broke up many plays that the Bengals were trying to run. This is impressive for a normal day at the office, but considering that it was DLaw's first game back it's all the more unbelievable. Tank is wreaking havoc!
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The Defensive Line As A Whole Is Fairly Decent
Terrell McClain, Benson Mayowa, and Jack Crawford all got at least a piece of Andy Dalton on Sunday. That's pretty amazing when you actually think about it.
It's amazing because this defense on paper - no jive here - should be one of the worst in the NFL, specifically the defensive line. The Cowboys have, for the last few seasons now, submitted themselves to a "Rod Marinelli can make anybody work" philosophy, and you know what? Rod Marinelli is making it work! The Defensive Line is getting it done, and that effort was certainly aided by the return of DeMarcus Lawrence.
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We Now Know Why Cole Beasley Has Been Returning Punts
Lucky Whitehead had a not-so-Lucky play during this contest, a fumble on a punt return (which was recovered by Whitehead himself).
And that fumble by Lucky is why you've seen Beasley in to catch punts when they're backed up to the endzone.
The idea of Cole Beasley returning punts was, while not totally strange, a bit of a chin-scratcher for most of us. Considering that Lucky Whitehead had trouble getting a hand on the ball, it's obvious that the Coaching Staff doesn't totally trust him when gigantic things are on the line. Thank God for Cole Beasley.
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Jason Garrett Is In The Running For Coach Of The Year
Think about this for a second.
Jason Garrett has, since Training Camp, lost his MLB, RDE, QB2, QB1, WR1, LT, and perceived CB1... and his football team is 4-1. That is unreal!
Do I believe that the Cowboys Coaching Staff and Front Office have acted arrogantly recently? Absolutely, but arrogance isn't always bad. If you can back up what you're saying then you have every right to be arrogant. So far Jason Garrett and Co. can be as arrogant as they want, they've backed it all up.
Leighton Vander Esch To Top Rookie Season With Pro Bowl Trip
Dallas Cowboys' rookie Leighton Vander Esch has done enough to prove every single doubter wrong. When Roger Goodell called his name during the 2018 NFL Draft in Arlington, Texas, many in Cowboys Nation rejoiced at the thought of having a young linebacker for a defense surrounded with uncertainty. However, many analysts doubted the draft pick. For a lot of people (sadly, I include myself in this category), the pick should've been used on another player. For most, despite acknowledging his raw talent, Vander Esch wouldn't be able to provide the Cowboys with an instant impact player. Ah, well.
After a remarkable season, Vander Esch (a.k.a. Wolf Hunter) has earned a spot on this season's second-team All-Pro. When the Pro Bowl voting began, Vander Esch was snubbed from the ballot itself. It didn't took the NFL long to realize their mistake and add the Cowboys' linebacker to the list. Despite missing the cut at first, Vander Esch will be heading to Orlando to play in this year's Pro Bowl on January 27th.
DallasCowboys linebacker @VanderEsch38 has been added to the 2019 Pro Bowl Roster. 🐺 Congratulations, rookie! → https://t.co/AYqEUy2tZx
The former Boise State Bronco will be replacing Carolina Panthers' LB Luke Kuechly, who won't be participating because of an injury.
Vander Esch racked up 140 tackles (per Pro Football Reference), ranking third in the league in this category. He finished the season as the fifth best linebacker in Pro Football Focus' rankings.
But numbers aren't really enough to fully appreciate what Vander Esch did for the Dallas Cowboys. A team that was used to seeing its defense break when veteran Sean Lee went down injured, did not only get someone to fill in for Lee. Vander Esch actually upgraded the Cowboys' defense. It didn't matter where the ball went, he was always around when opponents were tackled. His speed and chance of direction allowed him to run sideline to sideline, covering a huge portion of the field.
Along Jaylon Smith, Dallas managed to have one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL.
The last time a defensive rookie from the Cowboys went to the Pro Bowl was in 1981, when Everson Walls made the team. Vander Esch is the 11th rookie in team history to be selected to the Pro Bowl. This year, the rookie will be accompanied by DeMarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Ezekiel Elliott.
Cowboys Expect C Travis Frederick Back for Offseason Program
Lost in yesterday's hoopla over Scott Linehan's return was a positive report about Center Travis Frederick. In his comments to the media, Jason Garrett said that Frederick's recovery timetable should allow him to a full participant in the team's offseason program.
After never missing a start in his first five years, Travis missed all of 2018 dealing with the effects of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The disease attacked his neurological system and required immediate and intensive treatment.
Jason Garrett says the team anticipates Travis Frederick being involved in the offseason program right from the start this spring if he continues on the same positive track in recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome. #cowboyswire
While Joe Looney performed admirably in Frederick's absence, he's not an elite talent. Travis has been arguably the best center in the NFL since entering the league in 2013.
It's hard to qualify what effect not having Frederick had on the Cowboys offense in 2018. Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in rushing, but short-yardage plays weren't as automatic as we've seen in past years. A 4th-and-1 stuff was part of what led to the Cowboys' loss this past Saturday.
Dak Prescott was the second-most sacked QB in the NFL in 2018. After being sacked just 25 and 32 times in his first two seasons, the number skyrocketed to 56 sacks.
That's not all on Frederick, of course. Tyron Smith had some health issues and there were was turnover at left guard.
But having your All-Pro veteran center out there to help with the pre-snap reads, and help the rookie guard on his left, might have helped avoid some of those issues.
Indeed, Travis Frederick's return is just one of many reasons for optimism with the 2019 season. One of the best players on the team, he was sorely missed this year and can only help as Dallas looks to build on their division title and playoff appearance.
For Cowboys to Beat the Rams, Dak Prescott must Lead the Way
In the NFL wins and losses often come down to quarterback play. That isn't to say that if a team wins, it was all because of the quarterback and inversely, if a team loses that it was all on the quarterback. Teams win or lose games. Generally speaking, however, the quarterback has the highest amount of influence on the outcome of an NFL game. This will be no different for the Dallas Cowboys this Saturday when they take on the Los Angeles Rams in the LA Coliseum. For America's Team to make their first trip to the NFC Championship Game since 1996, Dak Prescott has to have a good game.
This looks to be a good matchup for the Dallas Cowboys offense, which should allow Dak Prescott and the Cowboys to take advantage in certain areas.
A few Rams Passing Game Notes
- The Los Angeles Rams were middle of the pack against the pass this season, allowing the 14th fewest passing yards in the league this season.
- The Rams allowed 7.7 yards per attempt. Dak Prescott is averaging 7.6 yards per attempt since week 10 of the season.
- The Rams allowed the eighth most passing touchdowns in the NFL this season. They and the New Orleans Saints are the only teams in the top 10 of passing touchdowns allowed in the playoffs this season.
- The Rams were 15th in the NFL in sacks, with 41, but Aaron Donald accounted for half of that with 20.5 sacks on the season. No other player had more than five sacks.
- They were third in the NFL in interceptions, collecting 18.
- The Rams allowed the ninth highest yards per completion on the season at 11.8. So on average, every completion went for a first down.
Dak Prescott is playing as well as any quarterback in the playoffs at the moment. Over the last nine games, he's averaging 272 passing yards, two total touchdowns, was only intercepted four times, and was sacked on average 3.2 times per game.
On Saturday night, we saw Scott Linehan put the ball in his hands on a couple designed runs that nearly scored touchdowns. It was an excellent addition to the offense that could help fix the Cowboys red zone woes. Getting Dak Prescott running on some designed runs or quarterback draws could help slow down Aaron Donald and the pass rush.
The Cowboys needed every bit of Dak Prescott magic to overcome a stingy Seattle Seahawks defense in their Wild Card win and they'll need him to step up again this week against the Rams. Every team is going to attempt to take away the running game to make Dak beat you and as he continues to mature, he's getting more and more comfortable doing that. He's comfortable with the big stage and the big moments.
Dak Prescott Since 2016, including playoffs * 15 game-winning drives (Most in NFL) * 13 primetime QB wins (Most in NFL) * 19 rush TD (Most in NFL by QB) #DallasCowboys @dak
No Quarterback in the NFL has more game winning drives, rushing touchdowns, or wins in primetime than Dak Prescott. When we talk about Dak Prescott, we talk a lot about the things that he can't do as a passer and deservedly so, he still has some growing to do in that area, but in the things that you can't objectively quantify -- mental toughness, resiliency, clutchness, will, determination -- Dak is one of the best in the NFL. He's as mentally tough as they come in the NFL and he doesn't let the spotlight or the game situation phase him. He has that stuff that's hard to put your finger on.
The Dallas Cowboys will need more of that on Saturday night in Los Angeles. The Rams can score and can score in bunches and if the Cowboys defense starts sluggish or has an off night, they'll need Dak Prescott to keep them in the game. Even if the defense has a good game, Dak still has to come through in the passing game and on the ground to give the Cowboys a chance to pull off the upset.
The Dallas Cowboys are going to try to run the ball against the Rams on Saturday. That's their identity; run the ball, control the clock, and be efficient in the passing game. Prescott, either with his legs or with his arm will have to make some plays to extend drives and keep the Rams offense on the sideline. He'll need to be sharp in the red zone to convert those opportunities into touchdowns. Settling for field goals against the Rams is how the Cowboys get beat.
This matchup with the Rams looks to set up nicely for Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys, yet how things look on paper doesn't mean much when the lights go on and the whistle blows. It's a big stage and it's another win-or-go-home game for the Cowboys (like every game has been over the last nine weeks). In a big game, you need big time players, and the Cowboys have one in quarterback Dak Prescott.
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