Dallas Cowboys: Are they for real or just a Halloween costume?
By Riley Donald
The Dallas Cowboys, like it or not, have garnered themselves a reputation of late-season collapses, improbable missteps, and an uncanny ability to falter down the stretch. Is the 2021 team different? Or are they just masquerading in a costume that may get exposed once Halloween passes?
Let me start by saying I had to talk a little about Halloween. Being raised in the one and only “Pumpkin Capital of the World,” I was force-fed pumpkins, Halloween, and the whole nine yards my entire childhood. It is a fun little read linked there. Production of 85% of the world’s pumpkins, a week-long festival, you name it. Now that my Halloween brag is over with, let’s see who this Cowboys team is.
What am I judging on? My criteria is going to be more black and white. I am going to look at a few different areas and make the call if I think things can continue or will we see the clock strike midnight on the costume party.
The Dallas Cowboys offense isn’t just a costume party
We might as well dive right into who I think continues their strong start and where we can expect to see continued success. That begins with the combination of offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and the entire offense. If he was more reliant on one offensive attack, the success might be short-lived, but his proven ability to adapt based on the defense’s weakness is one that will transcend most things all season.
Moore touts the number one offense in total yards (461ypg), the fifth-best passing offense (297ypg), and the second-best rushing attack (164ypg), all culminating with the highest-scoring offense in the NFL (34.2ppg). These numbers are ones that prove the Cowboys can do it in a multitude of ways.
Ezekiel Elliott (521) and Tony Pollard (366) are both in the top-16 total rushing yards, all while having one less game than many other running backs. The offensive line is going to get reinforcements that should only spur this attack onward.
CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, and Dalton Schultz all have at least 350 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Toss in Cedrick Wilson, Blake Jarwin, Noah Brown, Pollard, and Elliott all near or above 100 yards, the passing outlets are plentiful. Michael Gallup will return shortly and gives Dak Prescott another weapon.
Can the Dallas Cowboys defense avoid turning into a rotting pumpkin?
The defense is where I am curious to see if a regression occurs. I will start by saying the 2021 Cowboys defense has stepped up beyond most expectations. They are the fifth-best rushing defense and tout the fourth-best turnover differential (+7).
Their passing defense ranks 29th best in the NFL and 23rd in total yards allowed, but that is not so clear-cut. The Cowboys have been playing with leads this season and forcing teams to throw the ball. They have also forced turnovers with 11 interceptions and three fumble recoveries through only six games, led by Trevon Diggs’ coming-out party.
A stat I view as impressive, but also slightly hard to keep up, is the Cowboys having a league-leading 20.6% of their defensive drives ending in some sort of a turnover. I get concerned about what happens when the turnover party comes to a close, which, unfortunately, will eventually happen during a game this season. Teams will protect the ball and avoid interceptions on this team. At that point, can the defense get true stops by stepping up and playing sound defense?
Being an Iowa Hawkeyes fan, I saw this horror movie earlier this year. The Hawkeyes had 11 interceptions through six games (eerily similar) and climbed to the #2 ranking in the AP Poll. Iowa also had the fifth-best rushing defense (how spooky can this comparison get?) due to playing with leads, while the passing defense was just 39th-best in the NCAA.
Enter Purdue. Iowa lost the turnover battle badly by a -3 margin. The Boilermakers came into Kinnick Stadium and dismantled the #2 Hawkeyes by a score of 24-7 on national TV. Iowa gave the ball away and couldn’t force turnovers. The end result was a turnover-reliant defense living their version of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” by not being able to get the ball back.
I think the Cowboys’ defense has the cushion of relying on their offense more than Iowa does. Trust me, you guys have no idea the trip I go on every weekend from watching Iowa run their offense on Saturdays to seeing the creativity offered by the Cowboys on Sundays. This should help the Cowboys’ defense mightily as long as the offense avoids disastrous days.
This defense is built to play with leads due to their aggressive nature. I don’t want them having to keep us in a game. I would rather them end it with sacks or turnovers. The Cowboys are a good team and have a lot going for them.
This weekend, in primetime, on the road at Minnesota is a tough one. I would argue it is the toughest matchup since the Chargers in Week 2. Halloween night always gets a little weird. I just hope the Cowboys aren’t wearing their costumes and this good team that finds ways to win is who they really are.