AP Photo/Stacy Bengs
Just one week ago, I wrote
about how we had to take the Minnesota Vikings seriously as a Super Bowl
contender after they downed the Bills in Buffalo.
That may well still be true. But assuming it is, then we
also have to take the Dallas Cowboys seriously as a threat to represent the NFC
in Super Bowl LVII.
On Sunday, the Cowboys waltzed into Minneapolis and
dropped a piano on the Vikings, handing them their second-worst home loss
in team history. Oh, and they notched the biggest road win in their storied history, to boot.
Sunday’s 40-3 demolition of the one-loss Vikings was a
statement win in the truest sense, especially when you consider that the
Philadelphia Eagles struggled to get past a mediocre Colts team in Week 11 and the
Giants were embarrassed at home by the Detroit Lions.
It showed that when the
Cowboys are firing on all cylinders, there isn’t a more complete team in the
league. But it also came in stark contrast to a listless loss to the Green Bay
Packers the week before in which Dallas blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead.
The Cowboys may be the best team in the NFC—provided they
get out of their own way and don’t self-destruct.
After falling in overtime last week in Green Bay, Dallas
head coach Mike McCarthy told reporters that
while he was unhappy with how the game ended, he felt that close “gut
check” games were important tests for the team.
“I’m very frustrated with the end of the game,
obviously,” McCarthy said. “I think just the biggest thing for us is
we need to just go out here and just learn from these games. I love these kind
of games. That’s what I told these (guys), ‘You need these tight games to get
to where you want to go.'”
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Dallas failed that Week 10 test at least in part because
quarterback Dak Prescott threw a pair of costly interceptions. The 29-year-old
admitted to reporters that he needed to improve his play ahead of this week’s
trip to Minnesota.
“I’m my biggest critic, honestly, so if there’s a ball on
the ground, I feel like I need to get better. Simple as that,” Prescott
said. “As far as doing more, I’ve got to stay within the game plan, but at
the same sense, there’s certain times when looking back at it, maybe I should
have extended the play, not necessarily ran, but got out of the pocket and try
to make something happen more than what was there. That’s going to definitely
come, and just practicing it makes it pay off on Sundays.”
There was certainly a payoff against the Vikings. Prescott’s
276 passing yards isn’t a jaw-dropping number, but the 29-year-old missed on
just three of 25 attempts, threw two touchdown passes without an interception,
posted a passer rating of 139.3 and would have even bigger numbers had he not
been pulled early from a game that was all kinds of out of hand.
It was a near-perfect performance, one made all the more impressive
by the fact that No. 1 wideout CeeDee Lamb had a relatively quiet game. Of
course, the Cowboys didn’t need a ton from Lamb in a game where running back
Tony Pollard went ballistic…again.
In Week 7, Pollard touched the ball 14 touches and tallied
109 yards. The following week, it was 15 touches, 147 total yards and three
touchdowns. The next game, it was 25 touches, 128 total yards and a score.
Sunday against the Vikings, Pollard touched the ball 21 times, piled up 189
total yards and scored twice, including one from 68 yards out.
Robert Griffin III @RGIII
Tony Pollard is HIM pic.twitter.com/8MzQwCNAPp
Pollard’s tear of late was born partly from the absence of
Ezekiel Elliott, who had been sidelined by a knee injury. Elliott was back on
the field Sunday against the Vikings, and while he averaged less than three yards
a carry, he found the end zone twice as well.
It was an all-around dismemberment of the Vikings defense,
and afterward Prescott told reporters that if the Cowboys can duplicate the effort, they will be very hard to beat.
“We knew we needed to respond after last week,” he
said. “If we can continue to do this, this team can be special.”
Frankly, there’s no reason to think Dallas can’t back this
effort up. Elliott and Pollard offer a great “Thunder and Lightning”
duo in the backfield. Lamb is one of the best wide receivers in the league.
Dalton Schultz is a quality tight end. The offensive line might not be the
dominant force it once was, but it isn’t a liability.
Stephen Maturen/Getty Images
Dallas has no shortage of offensive talent, and it may well
be the weaker of Dallas’ two units.
The Cowboys scuffled a bit defensively last week against the
Packers, allowing over 200 yards on the ground. While speaking
to reporters earlier this week, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said those
struggles were absolutely a matter of execution and not personnel.
“One thing I do know,” Quinn said, “we have the
right crew to do it. And the answers are within that circle to do that. I’m more
than certain that this group of guys will get that done.”
Apparently, Quinn’s players were listening, because Kirk
Cousins is going to wake up screaming for weeks after he spent Sunday’s entire game
fleeing in abject terror.
Spearheaded by Defensive Player of the Year front-runner
Micah Parsons, the Cowboys dropped Cousins seven times on Sunday. Cousins barely
completed half his passes and threw for just 105 yards. The Vikings were held under
75 yards on the ground and under 185 yards total. That’s less yardage as a team
than star wideout Justin Jefferson had by himself against the Bills last week.
The Dallas defense leads the league in sacks, ranks inside
the top-five in both pass defense and scoring defense, ranks inside the top-10
in total defense and just completely shut down a Vikings team that had little
trouble moving the ball the week before in Buffalo.
Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Offensive weaponry. Defensive firepower. Stars on both sides
of the ball. No glaring weaknesses on either side of the ball. The Cowboys have
everything it takes to succeed in the postseason. There’s just one problem with
Dallas has reputation for being its own worst enemy—and it’s
not unfounded. The Week 10 loss to a meh Packers team represented all the Cowboys
issues in a nutshell. Dallas turned the ball over, committed nine penalties for
over 80 yards and Mike McCarthy curiously eschewed a long field goal in
overtime (despite a fantastic long-distance kicker in Brett Maher) for going
for it on 4th-and-3.
It worked out about as well as most of McCarthy’s
head-scratchers. The Cowboys failed to convert and never possessed the ball again.
That’s the thing with these Cowboys. Dallas should be able
to beat the Giants again on Thanksgiving to claim sole possession of second
place in the NFC East. They should be favored in every game between now
and their Week 16 rematch with the Eagles, and they are absolutely capable of beating
Philly at home to make things interesting in the division.
But that’s only if we see the Week 11 Cowboys moving forward
and not the Week 10 iteration. Dallas has the talent and the balance to cast
its reputation for folding in big moments. To wash off the stink of last
year’s postseason disappointment. Even to give Jerry Jones that thing he wants
more than anything in the world.
All they have to do is play to their potential…and force
opponents to beat them instead of beating themselves.