Remember when the Dallas Cowboys were 3-5, Jason Garrett seemed destined for a midseason firing, and Dak Prescott looked like he couldn’t throw for 200 yards in a flag football game? Those were good times for Dallas haters all over the nation, but I am sorry to say that they are definitively over now.
The Cowboys beat the Saints 13-10 last night, bottling up a terrifyingly fierce offense that scores just under 35 points per game. Call the result wonky and blame it on weird Thursday night vibes if you want, but that would require you to ignore what the Cowboys’ defense was doing all night.
Numbers can tell you plenty about how good an NFL defense is, and the Cowboys have some sparkling digits attached to their squad. They allow just over 18 points per game, have yet to surrender more than 30 points in a single game (quite a feat in today’s offense-heavy NFL), and have done so without even forcing that many turnovers. The strength of the Bears’ defense is in its ability to take the ball from the opposing offense by force—their 29 takeaways lead the league—but the Cowboys don’t have to rely on such momentum swings to keep offenses in check. They’ve only forced 14 turnovers this year, and have spent the rest of the time simply refusing to let their opponents move the ball down the field.
They do this by moving extremely fast and hitting ball carriers extremely hard. This is what stands out when you watch the Cowboys, and what conveys their talent better than any set of numbers can. Dallas’ defenders were flying all over the field last night, eating up all the speed and space that makes the Saints’ offense so good every week. How many times have you seen Alvin Kamara sent backwards when hit in the open field, or the Saints’ backfield flooded with defenders before their play even has time to develop? This happened constantly last night; it felt like Cowboys linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch were always two steps ahead of whoever they were after, and never in danger of being denied a tackle.
Here’s a play which usually ends with Kamara walking into the end zone, but this time DeMarcus Lawrence came all the way in from the edge to drop him in the backfield:
Smith and Vander Esch finished the game with 19 combined tackles, and Lawrence had four tackles and a sack when all was said and done. The Cowboys have now won four games in a row and have a clear path to the playoffs, and if there’s any reason to believe they’ll get there and possibly cause other teams some problems once they do, it’s what you see in those clips above. Prescott has been playing better and Ezekiel Elliott is still good and Amari Cooper has helped, but the real stars of this team play on the other side of the ball.