Former Dallas Cowboys Head Coach Bill Parcells used to break up each 16 game season into four quarters with a goal of winning each quarter. The idea that if you win each quarter, you’ll put yourself in position to make the playoffs and have a home game.
Well, the Dallas Cowboys finished the first quarter of the season 2-2 and have another huge road test this Sunday as they travel to face Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans.
Before we get to what’s coming, let’s take a look back and hand out some first quarter of the season awards to your Dallas Cowboys.
The Dallas Cowboys offense has struggled for the most part, and if it weren’t for the efforts of Ezekiel Elliott and the offensive line in the running game, this offense would be the worst in the league.
It’s gone hot and cold at times, but the running game has been really stinking good. Ezekiel Elliott is leading the NFL in rushing while averaging 106.5 yards per game as well as 31.3 yards receiving per game.
Those numbers are above his career averages to start the season, which is very impressive given how much focus the running game gets from opposing defenses. Through three weeks of the season, the Dallas Cowboys passing game hadn’t really been effective, yet the running game was still able to pick up yards on the ground through the first four weeks.
Elliott’s play on Sunday vs the Detroit Lions shows just how much of an impact he can make week-to-week. He set a career high in total yards with 240 yards and caught a touchdown pass. He’s the first player in the NFL in 2018 to go over 200 yards from scrimmage.
A big blow to the offense in the preseason was Travis Frederick being sidelined with Guillain-Barré Syndrome. In stepped backup Joe Looney and he’s held up really well on the offensive line. Unlike the backups did in 2017.
When the Dallas Cowboys were down offensive lineman in 2017, the performances from the backup offensive lineman were awful. So, to see Looney step in without having played much in the two seasons prior, is a big relief. Much of the reason the Dallas Cowboys are running the ball so well is because Joe Looney hasn’t allowed much of a drop off from All-Pro Travis Frederick.
The time-table on Frederick remains unknown and so having Looney playing as well as he has, is a huge boost for the Dallas Cowboys moving forward.
Who else would we give it to but the guy who has the biggest impact on the defensive side of the field every play; DeMarcus Lawrence.
Lawrence is leading the NFL in sacks with 5.5, is second in the NFL among EDGE players in tackles with 14, and second in the NFL in “stops,” which are defined by Pro Football Focus as “tackles that constitute a “loss” for the offense.”
There’s a reason that Lawrence is going to get paid a lot of money this offseason. He’s one of the best 4-3 defensive ends in the NFL.
The Detroit Lions came into the game on Sunday having allowed only three sacks as a team in 2018 and DeMarcus Lawrence doubled that with his one epic performance. He’s the best player on the defense and has played as the best player on the defense through the first four games of the season.
The only player on defense that has been as good as DeMarcus Lawrence has been is corner back Byron Jones. Only two regular corner backs in the NFL have allowed fewer receptions than Byron Jones; San Francisco 49ers’ Corner Back Richard Sherman and Washington Redskins Corner Back Fabian Moreau.
On Sunday against the Detroit Lions, he wasn’t even targeted after allowing only three receptions for 10 yards week three against the Seattle Seahawks.
Respect is growing for the fourth-year player and he’s been one of the best corners in the NFL in 2018. That’s huge considering the clear holes throughout the rest of the secondary.
PFF’s initial grade of DAL-DET says that they did not identify either of the two passes towards Byron Jones side as passes targeting him in coverage. He played 54 snaps, 34 in coverage and was not officially tested a single time. As I said last week during 1st half… he’s CB1.
Rookie of the Quarter
Leighton Vander Esch
Rookie Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has only played 49.61% of the defensive snaps and yet is tied for 16th in the NFL in solo tackles. Pro Football Focus has credited him with nine stops on the season and he hasn’t missed a tackle yet. He’s leading the Dallas Cowboys in tackles through the first four games of the year.
Filling in for injured All-Pro Linebacker Sean Lee, Vander Esch was excellent and earned himself a place in Pro Football Focus’ Team of the Week for week four.
After much gnashing of teeth after the draft about taking Leighton Vander Esch with the 19th overall pick, he’s been everything the Dallas Cowboys could have hoped for. Yes, they could have made other picks that would have worked out well, but this guy is — to steal some Jason Garrett speak — going to be a good player in this league for a long time.
Leighton Vander Esch is the truth and he’s not only the future at WILL linebacker, but he’s the now.
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Yes, there are 16 games to go this season, but some Dallas Cowboys have already made a big impact on the 2018 NFL season.