Dallas Cowboys: A new identity: defense and rushing attack

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

The Dallas Cowboys are riding the wave of winners after securing their fourth straight win of the season with an upset victory over the defending Super Bowl champions, the Los Angeles Rams. The Cowboys now stand 4-1 despite being the underdogs in every game except one this season (Washington Commanders).

This week, the Dallas Cowboys will once again be the underdogs as they face their hated archrival, the Philadelphia Eagles, in a Sunday night showdown that will give the winner sole position of first place in the now respected NFC East. Even though the Eagles are favored by a touchdown, the Cowboys come in as different team from their season opener against the Bucs.

After Dak Prescott suffered a broken thumb, the Cowboys relied on the  running game and defense to win. And now they are considered as one of the best teams in the NFC – even with backup quarterback Cooper Rush under center. Nobody saw this coming and it’s a good thing because it totally changed the entire makeup the team.

Once Dak Prescott was lost, the Dallas Cowboys changed their entire identity to be a defensive-minded , running-heavy football team.

While the Dallas Cowboys sit 4-1 with the much-anticipated game against the Eagles sits on deck, the fan base and critics alike can only wonder where this newfound Dallas team emerged from. If you foresaw Dallas going 4-0 without Dak, then you are truly a prophet and belong in the betting venues of Vegas. Because not even Mr. Hype-machine personified, Jerry Jones, foresaw Dallas being this good.

Remember, a balance offense is having the ability to run and pass at any given time, not a 50/50 split of run and pass. The Dallas Cowboys have the blueprint for a championship winning football team

The Dallas Cowboys rushing attack

First, losing Dak forced head coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore to simplify the playbook for Rush and lean on the running game. In reality, the running game came to fruition by default, not because Dallas has two good backs (Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard) and wants to lead the league in rushing and win games, but because one thing we know about Moore as Dallas’ OC is this man will rather pass it 100 times before even attempting a rushing attempt.

But with Dak gone, the running game was the best option to substitute Dallas’ passing attack and lean on play action pass to help out Rush. Despite Dallas ranking near the bottom in the NFL in points scored, Dallas’ offense is good at hitting on all the key marks to do just enough for its defense to win the game.

In the Rams game, the Dallas Cowboys ran the ball 34 times for 163 yards and a touchdown (Pollard scored on a 57 yarder). Rush completed 10 of 16 passes for 102 yards and no turnovers. Rush made the necessary passes to keep Dallas in the game. Going 5 for 15 on third down is awful by any stretch, but with a backup quarterback not making any mistakes, Rush is basically doing his job as a game manager and nothing more.

Sidebar: Dear Dallas Cowboys fans, please stop listening to the talking heads on ESPN and other sports platforms talk about Rush being better than Dak and a brewing quarterback controversy. If Rush was as good as they say he is, Dallas’ offense would not rank 27th in scoring, 26th in total yards per game, 30th in third down percentage, and tied for last in total touchdowns. Let us give Rush credit for doing what a backup is supposed to do, but Dak is way better than Rush and is Dallas’ franchise quarterback.

This new identity works for Rush and yielded Dallas four straight wins, so running the ball more is the identity Dallas needs to keep once Dak returns. Now I am not suggesting Dallas go full running mode, but the offense should lean on the running game more and use play action to benefit Dak. Because we all know a healthy Dak easily puts up 30 points on Dallas’ previous opponents. You cannot convince me otherwise.

My final analysis about the running game is that Pollard needs more touches, whether running the ball or used as a receiving threat. The dynamic Pollard is not being utilized to his fullest capabilities and has several runs of over 20 plus yards, if that’s not enough to get him more touches then something is truly wrong with this offensive brain trust.

Using a baseball analogy, Dallas’ current offense is similar to a baseball team that lacks offensive firepower but instead relies on manufacturing runs to win close ball games with a strong rotation of pitching and dominant bullpen.

The Dallas Cowboys Dominant defense

Dallas’ defense has an NFL best 85 pressures, second in sacks (20), and has forced seven turnovers.

Five straight games without a team scoring 20 points are something that has not been done in Dallas since 1972. Wow! That speaks volumes because that was in Dallas’ heyday where they had several future Hall of Famers on defense.

Dallas’ defense has been the linchpin that has carried this team to four victories. It is the primary reason Rush can pass for 100 yards with no touchdowns because the defense picks up the slack and is flying all over the field making plays, creating turnovers, making tackles, and absolutely destroying quarterbacks. Dallas’ defense has an NFL best 85 pressures, second in sacks (20), and has forced seven turnovers.

Dallas’ defense is led by their pass rushers, starting with the ultra-talented Micah Parsons, the ferocious DeMarcus Lawrence, and the underrated Dorance Armstrong, and followed by the ball-hawking Trevon Diggs, Donovan Wilson, and Jayron Kearse. The supporting cast is strong, and everyone is pulling their weight in making Dallas’ defense one of the most feared in the league.

Finally, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has his type of players suited for his defense and it’s paying off big time. Opposing offensive lines are having trouble stopping Parsons, let alone Dallas front four. One of the positives of Dallas’ defense is its ability to get to the quarterback with rushing only four down linemen.

To get to the quarterback without blitzing is a treasure and what Dallas needs against Philly and Jalen Hurts.

I have yet to mention that Dallas also has promising linebackers Jabril Cox and Damone Clark waiting in the wings to do damage as well. Those two dynamic linebackers are going to join Parsons in the near future. My Gawd! Mercy!

Holding opponents to just 14.4 points per game (rank 3rd in the league) is outstanding, but Dallas still needs to work on defending the run because its susceptible at times due to lack of gap discipline. It’s a great defense, but it’s not on the legendary levels of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens or 1985 Chicago Bears, two Super Bowl-winning defenses. The good news is that this defense will only get better and has not reached its ceiling. That’s scary.

Because of Dak’s injury, the Dallas Cowboys found new life with a successful running game and a powerful defense to back them up. To the chagrin of site expert Reid Hanson (Smile), Dallas needs to stick to the run for a few reasons once Dak returns:

1.  It keeps defenses honest

2.  Play action pass

3.  Prevent Dak from taking too many hits.

Like I stated earlier, I am not campaigning for a run-heavy offense but an offense that features the running game more to compliment the passing game. We all know Dak can pass for 400 yards and four touchdowns, but what about rushing for 150 yards, passing for 250 yards and score 30 plus points? The caveat is Dallas’ pass rush feasting on teams passing because they have fallen behind.

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Remember, a balance offense is having the ability to run and pass at any given time, not a 50/50 split of run and pass. The Dallas Cowboys has the blueprint for a championship winning football team because it’s working with an intern at the helm.

So, imagine what the results will be when the employee of the year returns back to his normal duties!