On paper, the Dallas Cowboys were going to struggle generating any offense against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. The league’s top defense matched up against a Cowboys team that came in ranked 30th in pass yards per game, with the defensive front to slow down Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys seemed destined for a 2-4 start through the end of six weeks.
Thankfully, NFL games are not played on paper, and the action on the field at AT&T Stadium would tell an entirely different — albeit unforeseen — story of the Cowboys dominance. With a season high 206 rushing yards, the Cowboys ran wild on the Jaguars, making this win look remarkably easy behind a defense up to the task of defending the lead from the opening drive.
The Cowboys improved their home record to 3-0 this season. Now coming off their most impressive effort of 2018, the team earned a shot at first place as they travel to the Washington Redskins in week seven – searching for their first road win of the season.
Here are my initial thoughts on the Cowboys drubbing of the Jaguars, a wonderfully unexpected result that keeps plenty of postseason dreams alive for Dallas.
- Jerry Jones caught a lot of heat this week for his comments on Head Coach Jason Garrett’s job security, but certainly deserves a lot of credit for wanting to see more of Quarterback Dak Prescott as a runner.
Jones called Garrett the “real deal”, a sentiment better reserved for Prescott when he’s able to take matters into his own hands and run the football. With 82 yards on the ground, Dak was eight yards shy of doubling his previous career high, sprinting down the sideline for the Cowboys first touchdown of the game.
Prescott’s rushing ability takes advantage of the Cowboys offensive line’s ability to get out in space and block. A fearless runner that can keep defenses honest on his own before unleashing Elliott on the ground, Prescott’s legs are the key to the Cowboys repeating a performance like this later in the season.
- Without Leonard Fournette, the Jaguars are not built to play from behind, and the Cowboys defensive line made sure of this.
The “Hot Boyz” were at full strength with David Irving back on the field for the first time this season. Rushing with DeMarcus Lawrence, Maliek Collins, and Randy Gregory on the Jaguars’ third down attempt following Brett Maher’s first FG, Irving was able to chase after Bortles and force an incomplete pass out of bounds as he recorded the QB hit.
With Jaylon Smith also blitzing on the play, this had to be an incredibly proud moment for Garrett, Rod Marinelli, and the Jones’ upstairs, as their trust in both Irving and Gregory paid off to create a fearsome pass rush.
Knowing they had interior defenders that could get off blocks and finish plays, the Cowboys defensive ends in this game were aggressive rushing up the field and collapsing the pocket on Bortles.
- Michael Gallup is slowly emerging as this team’s number one wide receiver, thanks to his ability to make plays on contested balls.
Look no further than Allen Hurns’ stat line from this win to see why rookie Wide Receiver Michael Gallup is going to be crucial to the Cowboys passing offense as this season progresses. Hurns was the only receiver targeted that failed to bring in a catch, as Prescott has struggled to find any rhythm with the big-bodied free agent signing.
On the other side of the field, Gallup has flashed similar ‘above the rim’ abilities to Hurns, while also being a more reliable route runner with big play potential after the catch. Cole Beasley was open all afternoon against the Jaguars secondary, but early in the game when Prescott needed a play he was able to fit some great passes into Gallup.
I include Gallup’s touchdown catch that was called back, since it was a safe strike from Dak. Putting the ball where only Gallup could make the incredible catch, Gallup was inches away from scoring his first NFL touchdown.
Instead, with the Cowboys rotation at WR trimmed down due to injury, Gallup staked his claim for a larger share of the snaps in the Cowboys 40-point performance.
- This was another good game for rookie Left Guard Connor Williams, but I thought he had a chance to prevent the Calais Campbell sack that forced the Cowboys to settle for three points on their first possession.
As Prescott stepped up in the pocket, Campbell was able to change directions and cut across the face of Williams. With nobody else in front of him, it looked like Williams was in prime position to deliver a shot to Campbell, but was unable to get a hand on the Jaguars top pass rusher.
Reacting late to the whole play, Campbell finished the play for his only sack, a stat the Cowboys will certainly take when evaluating a fairly dominant day for their entire offensive line.
- The rate at which Linebackers Jaylon Smith and rookie Leighton Vander Esch are making open field tackles is easily the best thing going for the Cowboys defense right now.
Whenever Jaylon Smith appears in the vicinity of an opposing receiver or running back, they better brace for impact. Where Smith has been the enforcer of the Cowboys defense at MIKE, Vander Esch is playing off him perfectly as the second starter with range and athleticism to cover from sideline to sideline.
The Cowboys have allowed an average of 16.67 points over their last three games without Sean Lee, a full point better than the three games Lee’s played against the Panthers, Giants, and Seahawks. This is exactly the reason why Dallas was so comfortable drafting Vander Esch.
Even still, having the Boise State product rising to the occasion so early in his Cowboys career alongside Smith gives the Cowboys a LB pairing they can trust for years to come. This is more than they ever signed up for when drafting both players to ideally play with Lee, something they’ll still get the chance to do in the coming weeks.
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Alternating wins and losses through their first six games, the 2018 Cowboys remain an enigma that (again, on paper) have a lot to build on after defeating the Jaguars soundly. The ease at which the Cowboys moved the ball should at least partially be attributed to how difficult it was for the Cowboys to manage any offense in their three road losses.
With a defense that’s shows up each week to keep Dallas in any game, the time is now for the offense to travel away from AT&T Stadium and earn the Cowboys first winning streak at Washington. In doing so, the Cowboys would claim first place in the NFC East.
Given the expectations set on this team before the year, this feels like the only surefire way for the Cowboys to put their tumultuous start behind them, serving as a reminder that the NFL is the ultimate week-to-week league.
Keeping that in mind, this team deserves a day to enjoy their decisive win from Sunday. Welcome back to Victory Monday, Cowboys Nation.