Starting an NFL season 2-0 has always drawn headlines, and especially when it's as rare as it is for the Dallas Cowboys. The question now is if, unlike in years passed, the Cowboys are finally going to build something special on that solid foundation.
Over the last two weeks, wins against the New York Giants and Washington Redskins have given Dallas the doubly-good record of 2-0 both overall and in the NFC East. While neither team is seen as a contender this year, division games tend to go off script and be more competitive than what's on paper.
The Cowboys have handled their business so far this year and in impressive fashion. Can they keep it up?
Before 2019, Dallas has only had a 2-0 start three other times in the last 20 seasons. All of them occurred during Tony Romo's run as starting quarterback, but only once with Jason Garrett as head coach.
The most recent was in 2015. Coming on the heels of an impressive 12-4 finish in 2014 and the agony of the Dez Bryant "no catch" call in the playoffs, big things were expected in Dallas that year.
But even though the Cowboys moved to 2-0 with a Week 2 win over the Philadelphia Eagles, the loss of Tony Romo to a broken collarbone in that game torpedoed the season. Dallas had to trot out the feckless trifecta of Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassell, and Kellen Moore at QB the rest of the year and only won two more games.
The other 2-0 starts for Tony Romo's Cowboys came in consecutive years from 2007 to 2008, again at times when expectations were high for the team based on perceived talent and upward momentum. Neither ended the way we hoped.
Coming off Romo's ascension to starting QB in 2006 and a surprising run to the playoffs, the Cowboys were one of the NFL's best teams the following year. They posted a 13-3 record in the regular season and were the top seed in the NFC for the postseason.
But that beautiful run ended in bitter disappointment when Dallas, despite enjoying a bye week and home field advantage, got shocked by the visiting Giants in their first playoff game.
Much like the 2015 season, Dallas went into 2008 looking to take things to the next level after a tough postseason exit. They actually started the year 3-0 and were looking like contenders again.
But again like 2015, a Romo injury struck a major blow to the team's efforts. A finger injury suffered in a bad overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals would cause Tony to miss the next three games. Dallas went from 4-1 to 5-4 during that absence.
Unfortunately, Romo's return did not right the ship that year. The Cowboys would suffer a horrific 1-3 slide in December and ultimately finish 9-7 and just outside of the playoff bubble. The season was capped with a humiliating 44-6 loss in Philadelphia.
This brief history lesson may not mean much to some of you. After all, every season is its own story.
But while major media will bombard you with stats about how teams who start 2-0 typically have certain outcomes to their seasons, the Dallas Cowboys have often defied those odds. We've found creative ways to ruin hot starts and overcome bad ones over the last two decades.
What really strikes me about this 2019 season is the level of expectation and how it compares to 2007, 2008, and 2015. True, expectations are always high around here. But even the most objective onlookers couldn't help but have high hopes for the Cowboys in those years based on what had happened the previous season.
Between the strong play after adding Amari Cooper and advancing to the the second round of the 2018 playoffs, Dallas had good cause to expect big things this season. Their approach to offseason business, such as adding veterans Robert Quinn and Randall Cobb and locking up key players to lucrative business, suggested that the Cowboys were going all in to try and win a championship with this roster.
So far the hype has been validated. Say what you want about the opposition these first two weeks, but I go back to the well-established history of NFC East play and how the results have often defied logic. Funky things tend to happen in division games, but the Cowboys have handled their rivals so far as if they were any other NFL basement dwellers.
But while the 2-0 start and two divisions wins are a great base for the 2019 season, we have ample evidence of how askew things can go from here. Thankfully, Dak Prescott has already proven to have more durability than our last starting QB. But much like we saw in 2017, an injury at left tackle or some other key position can do its own damage.
While players like Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and others will likely have many more years to try and win in Dallas, this is still a critical year for Jason Garrett. Coaching on the final year of his contract, Garrett would likely not see a new one if the team has another collapse. How much disappointment the Jones family will stomach this year depends on the final result.
But if you've been following this team as long as I have, your feelings about this year likely transcend any single coach or player. You've been waiting almost 25 years now to see the Dallas Cowboys get back to glory, and right now feels like one of the best opportunities.
It's an exciting time, but that long wait also comes with a knowledge of past outcomes.
Hopefully, this year, the strong start is the beginning of something truly special.
Amari Cooper Continues to Feast on the Philadelphia Eagles
The 2018 trade that sent the Dallas Cowboys 2019 first-round draft pick to the Oakland Raiders has been genius since last year. But it'll never get old bringing it up after many panned the Cowboys for making the move when the Philadelphia Eagles sent a third-round pick, for now, New York Giants Wide Receiver Golden Tate.
The beauty of this deal for the Dallas Cowboys is that their trade for a wide receiver worked out tremendously and at the same time, their biggest rival's trade for a wide receiver fell flat. The other part that continues to make the deal for Amari Cooper a dream come true is the way he's played against the Philadelphia Eagles in some high-leverage games.
In week 10 of the 2018 season, Cooper's second game with the Dallas Cowboys, they found themselves facing an uphill battle for the NFC East as they sat at 3-5 in what would become the first must-win game of the season. After spending just two weeks with the Cowboys, Cooper put up a six reception, 75-yard effort in the Cowboys win that brought them to 4-5. That victory would propel them to win their next five games in a row and go 6-1 over their final seven games.
In their division-clinching win in week 14, Amari Cooper put up an all-time game when he caught 10 passes for 217 yards, and three touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime.
Yet again, in a pivotal matchup for the NFC East between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles, Cooper showed up yet again. He really likes playing against Philly. On the night he had five receptions on five targets for 106 yards. Cooper had receptions of 44 and 28 yards that helped set up scores to put the game out of reach.
In addition to those two big receptions, Amari picked up two other receptions for first downs, something that we've come to expect at this point. The Dak Prescott to Amari Cooper connection continues to be a treat to observe as the two are on just another level when it comes to their chemistry.
On the 44 yard bomb, the Cowboys put Cooper in motion, and though the man didn't travel with him, Dak knows he's got single coverage on the outside. Prescott uses a good shoulder faint to sell the slant to Cooper before he runs a sluggo route (a slant and go) and gets behind his man and away from the deep middle safety down the sideline. That reception helped set up the first of Brett Maher's two field goals in the final two minutes of the first half, which made it 24-7.
Then at the start of the fourth quarter, with the Dallas Cowboys attempting to milk the clock and also ice the game, Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper come up with another big-time throw and catch. This time down the right sideline.
After Randall Cobb goes in motion, Prescott again knows he has Amari with single coverage at the top of the screen. Much like they did last year in the week 10 matchup where Cooper had more than 200 yards receiving, Prescott puts the ball out in front of Cooper and gives him an opportunity to run under it.
Amari Cooper's ability to use his speed and body positioning to go from out of position to make the play in an instant is an incredible thing to watch. Unlike Dez Bryant, he's not using a jumping ability to beat these defenders to the ball, Cooper's simply using his frame and speed to get into a better position to make these over these shoulder catches down the field.
In three games now against the Philadelphia Eagles, Amari Cooper's caught 21 passes for 398 yards and three touchdowns. More importantly, the Cowboys have recorded three huge wins against their NFC East rival in those games.
If and when the Dallas Cowboys extend Amari Cooper this season or in the offseason to a long-term extension, it should send shivers down the spine of the Philadelphia Eagles and their fan base. He's abused the Eagles over the last year and it's unlikely that they'll be better for the next meeting later in the season. At this point, Amari Cooper probably gets really excited to see the Eagles on the other side of the field from him, knowing that there isn't a defensive back that can hang with him in man coverage.
Jason Garrett Deserves Major Praise For Cowboys Week 7 Win
Jason Garrett's seat had never been hotter than it was entering Sunday night.
And that's saying a lot.
The much maligned head coach of the Dallas Cowboys has been fending off those who have called for his job since the very day he took the team over from Wade Phillips in 2010. Garrett has been called a yes-man, the "clapper," and flat-out a bad football coach by seemingly every national media outlet despite the success he's had as the coach in Dallas.
That's right, I said success.
Yes, there has been no championship level success under Garrett's regime, but there has been success. Since 2014, Garrett has led the Cowboys to 3 division titles in 5 years and has reached the Divisional round of the playoffs three times. He's 16-5 against the NFC East in the Dak Prescott era, and has the Cowboys in first place of the division through seven weeks once again.
So, there has been success. But certainly not enough of it to defend his every move.
Jason Garrett messed up in New Jersey. There's no way around it. Sloppy game management and poor control of the clock put his team in a tough situation against the Jets, and ultimately led to their disastrous week 6 loss. He was outcoached and out-prepared by a winless team, and suffered one of the worst losses in his era as the team's head coach.
Fans were calling for his job, and rightfully looking for answers as to why such a talented group of players was in the midst of a three game skid that no one had predicted after their fast start to the 2019 season. Dallas' backs were against the wall, and they had to answer against the Eagles in order to salvage a season which had such high hopes just weeks before.
And, as Jason Garrett's teams have done more often than not, the Dallas Cowboys answered. Garrett's Cowboys had been plagued by slow starts during their three game losing streak, but his team came out on fire on Sunday night. Dallas forced two quick fumbles, scored two easy touchdowns, and were up 14-0 before the Eagles had even blinked.
The game was over, and it had just started.
Jason Garrett is far from perfect as a head coach. He often deserves criticism, and he has some faults which are hard to look past as we project what the Cowboys will be down the stretch of the season. But he deserves major praise for this team's week 7 performance. It would've been easy for the Cowboys to once again come out slow on Sunday, get behind early, and fall into the shell they had found themselves in the previous two weeks.
But instead, they fought. They dominated. And they won.
Games like these are why it's so difficult for the Cowboys to move on from Jason Garrett as their head coach. These teams play hard for him, and they are rarely out of contention on any given Sunday, or during any given season.
Jason Garrett's seat is still hot. The Cowboys will need postseason success to ensure that it cools to a comfortable temperature for the coach this offseason. But kudos to him and the Cowboys for getting a massive win on Sunday night.
Brett Maher Named NFC Special Teams Player of Week 7, 2019
Brett Maher's 63-yard field goal last Sunday may have been a drop in the bucket on the scoreboard for the Dallas Cowboys. But the historical significance of that kick, and it's near record-breaking distance, helped Maher earn the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week award for Week 7 of the 2019 season.
Maher went 3/3 on the day as the Cowboys routed the Philadelphia Eagles. But it was the 63-yard FG at the close of the first half which brought Brett this latest accolade. He became the first kicker in NFL history have three career field goals of 60 yards or more.
1st player in @NFL history to have three career FGs of 60 yds or more ✔️ @brett_maher is your NFC Special Teams Player of the Week! → https://t.co/MFiAnAScrY
Maher's kick was one yard short of tying the record, 64 yards, set by Matt Prater in 2013.
It was weeks like this one which helped Brett Maher keep the Cowboys' kicker job this year despite mixed results in 2018. He won two Player of the Week awards last season and showed off his rare long-range ability, but was one of the least accurate kickers overall from shorter distances.
That same mixed bag has been seen this year. Despite his work on Sunday, Maher is at just 71% accuracy on his total field goal attempts right now.
Hopefully, Brett's big day over the Eagles will spark a hot streak. His range is an incredible weapon for the Cowboys; can he consistently prove that he's more of an asset than a liability?
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