Dallas Cowboys Point/Counterpoint: It’s time to get optimistic

It’s a whole different feeling for them Dallas Cowboys in this week. After a truly awful showing early in the season, made worse by injuries to Dak Prescott and other key members of the squad, the exhausted squad came out and managed an upset victory over the Cincinnati Bengalwho just played in the super bowl. The mood in the team is suddenly high. But not everyone is so sure that the cowboys have completely turned the corner. Our David Howman and Tom Ryle present their points of view.

David: After coming out in Week 1 and getting Molly-Whobed, the biggest question for the Cowboys was if the offense was really that bad or if it was Tampa Bay Buccaneers were so good. With Week 1 ripe for overreaction, many across the country opted for the former, but Week 2 offered strong evidence for the latter. Not only did the Cowboys look significantly better offensively against the Bengals, and without their franchise quarterback on top of that, the Buccaneers defense similarly stopped a talented Saints offense.

Needless to say I’m pretty optimistic after this win. As I got into the Bengals game, I had noticed a few areas where the Cowboys could carve out advantages over their opponent to achieve victory. And to a bit of a surprise, they actually did all of those things. In recent years, that has become rare for this franchise. I’m not ready to get carried away and say this team can contend for a Super Bowl, but the season — and the race in the NFC East — is still very much alive.

Tom: I enjoyed the win as much as anyone, but there are reasons I still reserve judgment. First, we need to see Cooper Rush maintain some consistency from week to week. There have been many other instances where backup quarterbacks have come along and been the hero of a game, only to fade as other teams geared up for them. Rush is simply an unknown in this regard. If he can look like he did against the Bengals, especially the first two drives, that’s all well and good.

It’s a big if, and it’s closely related to another thing I’m skeptically keeping an eye on. After calling those impressive touchdown drives, Kellen Moore seemed reeling, and the resulting lack of attacking and scoring nearly blew the team away. A topic for my articles this week was how much better he is in the first 15 games of a game that are pre-planned or scripted. After that, his decision-making seems to drop precipitously. Luckily the last drive gave him some relief, but he had very few options on the playsheet, so far ahead and so little time left. He just has to get better in the middle of the game for this team to be successful.

In the meantime, we’re still waiting to see if the offensive line will continue to hold and if anyone besides Noah Brown, CeeDee Lamb and Dalton Schultz can be reliable targets. They can also add Tony Pollard to that group, although they still need to get his hands on the ball more. The young receivers need to step up, especially when Schultz gets beat up. Now we see another shuffle with Dennis Houston now on the practice team. Hopefully Michael Gallup will come back soon but he may need to step up. There is hope that Jalen Tolbert has also completed his own preparatory process. On the line now, Matt Farniok is the weak link and we don’t know what they’re up to there. I think they tend not to make any major changes until Connor McGovern comes back.

Against the Giants’ surprising 2-0 lead, they need to do more to win.

David: I’ll go ahead and challenge you with the idea that Kellen Moore has gone conservative after the first two rides. I’ve seen this review many times since the game, and I understand coming to that conclusion based on the results, but I just don’t see it. Moore came into this game with a plan to get on the run, just like he had last week and just like the Cowboys planned for the offseason. The runplays worked well for the first two drives and the drive just before halftime, which resulted in a field goal. Of her six drives that didn’t result in points, five were big loss games (blown runs in the backfield, sacks, incompletions on first down) that led to third and long situations. Dallas also had a really good drive in the third quarter that ended with a fumble from Schultz.

I think what some call conservative play calling is just a reaction to how this offense works now. Losses at wide receivers and the philosophical shift to a run-heavy offense result in fewer opportunities to score, which is a pretty drastic change for a unit that led the NFL in points a year ago. Taking away Dak Prescott makes the effect a little more pronounced, but the harsh reality is that the front office spent all summer building an offense that wasn’t designed to score much. If Moore wants to get points in a hurry, he has to get creative with game designs, but we killed him because he did that against Tampa too.

For me, the biggest question going into Week 2 was whether Moore could match his play calling to his backup quarterback, which he didn’t do in 2020. That year, in games without Prescott, the Cowboys ranked 28th in the NFL in offensive EPA/game. In a game with Rush that year, they placed 16th in offensive EPA/game. It’s obviously a very small sample size, but Moore spent a week showing me that this offense can survive a few weeks without Prescott. And with the defense and special teams looking the way they look, that makes me pretty optimistic.

Tom: I’ll say a little in your defense of Moore, but those failed early losses are partly his fault as well.

Now the defensive in particular gives hope, which last year kept two rather explosive units below 20 points. They did that last game without Jayron Kearse who is such a big part of defense. so that’s also very encouraging. The pass rush looks like we hoped it would. Micah Parsons shows no sign of slumping as a sophomore and has already launched a campaign for Defensvie Player of the Year.

But this season will still depend on what they can do offensively. I was concerned to see how Prescott would fare in Week 1, but I’m hoping this was just a bad day at the office and he’s not stringing many of those together. It’s still going to come down to the things we’ve been worried about all offseason, the receiver corps and the offensive line. There is a lot of work going on and we should expect growing pains. The challenge now is not to let these, combined with the early injuries, fall behind in what is suddenly a very tough looking division.

I’m hoping for the best, but like I’ve said all year, I’ll believe it when I see it.

David: We’ll find out a lot more this Monday when the Cowboys play their first division game of the year. But in the meantime, I’ll be chugging the Kool-Aid.

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