It’s been roughly a month now since the Dallas Cowboys lost their one and only game, and even that could’ve been a victory, had the team not suffered kicking woes against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They’ve bounced back like a Spalding on an NBA hardwood though, rattling off four consecutive wins and obliterating opponents on both sides of the ball in the process. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are leading an offense that can roast opponents in the air and/or on the ground, and Trevon Diggs continues his historic streak of interceptions grabbed — and while visually impaired, no less — as he races toward another franchise record (11) and also the NFL record itself (14).
Their latest victim? The rival New York Giants, a team hot off of their first win of the season and entering AT&T Stadium feeling rather good about themselves and their chances at landing an upset. Instead, after a slow and messy start by the Cowboys, Prescott and Co. tied the Giants defense to a speedboat and pushed the throttle all the way forward, while Diggs and a defensive front led by the relentless pressure of Randy Gregory “choked out” Big Blue to go 2-0 in the NFC East and 4-1 on the season.
In this week’s iteration of CBS Sports’ “Stock up, Stock down” series for the Cowboys, the fact there are so many who continue to push their stock higher, while others join them, is evidence to support just how real and different this Dallas team is from ones in the recent past. There is at least one player who needs to get his act together, though, and doing so would only make the Cowboys that much more dominant.
Let’s discuss who’s heading north, and who needs to make a U-turn ahead of the Week 6 matchup with the New England Patriots.
[Note: This list is unranked.]
One word comes to mind when thinking of Diggs: alien. It’s unconfirmed if he’s one of the beings Will Smith was battling in the legendary film “Independence Day,” but Diggs is certainly taking over the NFL world after an invasion as the Cowboys second-round pick in 2020. He’s now amassed six interceptions in his first five games, after picking off quarterback Mike Glennon in the victory over the Giants in Week 5, and he nearly intercepted Daniel Jones on two separate occasions prior. What he’s achieving is as literally historic as it is eye-popping and, speaking of eyes, he was able to help dominate Big Blue despite battling a severe case of pink eye — in both of his eyes.
So as it turns out, even when he can’t really see what’s happening, he can still see every single thing that’s happening. Someone get Mr. Smith on the phone, because apparently he’s the only one qualified to stop Diggs’ takeover, especially if he gets his wish to start catches passes as a receiver, too.
Speaking of takeovers, Elliott is brandishing his own version of dominance for the Cowboys in 2021. His 110-yard rushing effort and two touchdowns against the Giants pushes his combined totals in the last four weeks to 468 yards from scrimmage with six touchdowns and, equally as important, zero fumbles. Even more impressive is what the two-time NFL rushing champ is doing once a defender gets their hands on him — having rattled off 170 rushing yards after contact over the last two games and 228 total over the last three combined. The offseason conditioning work Elliott put in is paying off like gangbusters, as he runs around, past and through defenders this season.
His resurgence has helped Dak Prescott created a truly fluid offensive attack for the Cowboys, and rumors of Elliott being washed were greatly exaggerated, because he’s clearly “dry clean only” in 2021.
Prescott had a couple of stumbles to start his battle with the Giants, and was headed full force to the wrong side of this week’s column, but he shook off his “mental fog,” grabbed his apron and started barbecuing the New York secondary en route to another convincing win by Dallas. Prescott is now the frontrunner for NFL Comeback Player of the Year and in the conversation for 2021 NFL MVP, because while he’s thrown for less yardage than through the first five games of 2020, he’s tossed four more touchdowns and one fewer interception — arguably two fewer, if you ask CeeDee Lamb about his Week 1 drop.
Could Prescott have more yardage? Yes, but for the same reason Elliott was scaled back in the regular season opener, the Cowboys are taking what the opposing defense is giving them on any given week but, be not mistaken, Prescott is statistically a walking 400-yard game, whenever he needs to be.
When Cooper grabbed his leg and started limping in the third quarter of the beatdown against the Giants, you probably heard yourself stop breathing. After all, the four-time Pro Bowler is nursing a hamstring injury along with a fractured rib, and how much can one man take and still remain productive on a football field? Well, that question still has no answer when it comes to Cooper, because he returned to the field and not as a decoy, either. Having already grabbed a touchdown toss from Prescott earlier in the game, Cooper finished the contest with a respectable 60 receiving yards on three catches, and then made it clear after the game he and his hamstring are “good.”
In this world, there are humans and then there are cyborgs, and the jury is out on which category Cooper falls into — likely the latter parading around as the former.
Cooper definitely wasn’t the only receiving weapon that got going against the Giants. Lamb was responsible for helping to Prescott in his cookout duties, his 45-yard touchdown catch effectively serving as the marker in which Prescott snapped out of his fog. Lamb hasn’t been the top target each week because he doesn’t have to be, by design, because the Cowboys’ goal is to make sure the opposing defense has no clue who to key in on. And because of that, any of Prescott’s myriad of weapons could have a big play and/or big day and, on Sunday, it was Lamb’s turn.
The former first-round pick dropped 84 yards and the aforementioned TD on the Giants, on only four catches, showing he can do damage as a deep threat too, in addition to the YAC monster he entered the league as.
Brown has seen both sides of this column, and for rightful reasons in each case. On one hand, he’s seen his stock drop a time or two due to coverage issues that have resulted in the Cowboys defense giving up big plays in the air, with opposing quarterbacks completely unafraid to target him on a consistent basis, and he’s dropped a potential game-sealing pass as well (versus the Panthers). On the other hand, however, it appears Brown is making at least some strides, most notably in his ability to take the ball away — repairing the aforementioned dropped pass with a pick-six against the Giants to nail their coffin closed on Sunday.
That marks two interceptions for Brown this season, second behind only Diggs, and if he can find a way to hit a stride before rookie second-round pick Kelvin Joseph returns from injured reserve, likely after the Week 7 bye, he’ll have a great chance at retaining his job for the remainder of the season.
With Michael Gallup sidelined with a calf injury, all Wilson has done is stepped in and played big when called upon. After having a breakout first five weeks of the 2020 season with Prescott, the two are back to business in 2021 and business is booming. In Week 5 against the Giants, Wilson turned into a quarterback yet again for Dallas and tossed a first down on a trick play, and while that admittedly wasn’t the best throw ever — he’s not actually a QB, ya’know. The pass was completed, the drive went on, and later on Wilson delivered his second toe drag catch for Prescott in roughly three games.
He delivered one for a touchdown in the Week 2 win over the Philadelphia Eagles, had a spin-cycle touchdown in the win over the Carolina Panthers and his latest work of art helped bury the Giants. Teams keep forgetting Wilson is a weapon until it’s too late to do anything about him.
The weapons in Dallas aren’t only on offense and, on defense, they extend beyond the historic run Trevon Diggs is having. There is at least one player that’s helped fuel Diggs’ run on INTs, and that’s Gregory, who had a league-best nine QB pressures in Week 5 against the Giants. While he has only two sacks on the season, he’s narrowly missed having many more, and that sack tally will likely increase when quarterbacks can’t continue to escape him by flushing out of the opposite side of the pocket — where All-Pro pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence will soon return to. That said, Gregory’s pressures have caused throwing errors that either DIggs has taken advantage of or nearly did, and there’s no signs of Gregory doing anything but remaining consistent and/or getting better.
Gregory has 19 pressures in his four games played this season (4.75 per game), and his disruptions have helped to wreck the composure and gameplanning of Cowboys opponents.
As CBS Sports reported at the time, Cox was/is a key reason the Cowboys opted to move on from linebacker Jaylon Smith. The team wasn’t simply looking to escape the $9 million risk Smith carried by way of a 2022 injury guarantee, but also wanted to get Cox on the field, believing he’s shown a ton of promise and could be the latest feather in their cap that’s seeing their rookie defensive class do stellar things in 2021. Cox had a critical third-down stop against the Giants that unfortunately put Daniel Jones into the league’s concussion protocol, but also showed his ability to diagnose, read and react in pivotal big-game moments. There’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to Cox, and his stock should continue to climb, and quickly, because he’s about to see a lot more snaps going forward.
To be honest, at this point, I could just say Parsons’ name and move on without detailing why his stock is still climbing. The rookie first-round pick continues to do dynamic things for the Cowboys this season, be it as an edge rusher or a linebacker. After being moved do the defensive line to initially help with the loss of Lawrence, Parsons took both Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts to the school of hard knocks before being pulled back for primarily LB duties, but he was still able to make his presence felt against both Jones and Glennon — finishing with a team-high eight tackles on the day.
Parsons is a machine who never wants to leave the field, and can do any and everything the Cowboys ask of him defensively.
Kearse isn’t going anyway anytime soon, if at all this season. Playing on a one-year deal with the Cowboys, he’s earning the right for a possible reup in 2022, having stepping in for an injured Donovan WIlson and continually played well in the process. The veteran safety is now a starter on the Cowboys defense, and when Wilson does return from his groin injury, Kearse will be used in split duty between safety and as a linebacker in big nickel defense. The latter is yet another reason, as CBS Sports reported, the Cowboys opted to part ways with Jaylon Smith. They’re going to figure out ways to keep Kearse on the field going forward, and rightfully so.
In his four starts, he has a combined 34 tackles, two passes defensed and at least two near-interceptions (one deleted by officials due to a holding penalty on tackle Terence Steele). Feels more and more like Kearse is yet another potential playmaker for Dallas who is always one week away from being the headliner.
When teams sign players, they do so with the hopes of that player competing for a role. For Steele, an undrafted free agent signed by the Cowboys in 2020, the role was swing tackle — seeing as the team was desperate to identify a solid backup behind Tyron Smith and La’el Collins. In the absence of both last season, the rookie version of Steele struggled mightily, but that was then and this is now. Through four games with Collins sidelined due to a five-game suspension, Steele has mostly played very well, and that means the Cowboys can smile as they ready for the return of Collins in Week 8 against the Minnesota Vikings.
It’s possible to give Steele his roses while also understanding Collins is the better player at right tackle, and the Cowboys understand this completely, even if others do not.
Of course, when you’re on a four-game win streak like the Cowboys are, there are going to be several players who contribute to that success but might not always see their stock soar on any given week. So when looking at the contributions of players like Vander Esch and others who deserve to be honorably mentioned this week — outside of the usual suspects like Tyron Smith and Zack Martin — it’s key to note just how impactful these guys have been and continue to be. Pollard, for example, is on pace for a 1,000-yard season along with Elliott, and provides a luxurious one-two punch at running back, while Hooker and Kazee join Kearse and Wilson in making for a great depth problem at safety.
Neal, who returned from the COVID/Reserve list last week and also helped force the decision on Jaylon Smith, had five tackles against the Giants and rookie defensive lineman Quinton Bohanna continues to be a force in the middle. Schultz is improved over his uneven performance in Week 4, but dropped a would-be touchdown pass in Week 5 that saw his stock drop, but then climb again as he recovered to reel in 79 yards on six catches — as he works through some unexpected inconsistency regarding ball control the past two weeks.
Biadasz isn’t a bad player, but he needs to get out of his head before it’s too late. The Cowboys have already failed at trying Connor Williams at center, but the decision to do so meant they wanted options at the position. And with Biadasz now struggling to consistently deliver good snaps to Prescott, the Cowboys are giving Connor McGovern some reps in practice at center, with Mike McCarthy noting he’s “making progress” in that role. This should all push Biadasz to become better at his job, while it is still his job, and that includes improving in other aspects of it as well. His next big test will come against the Patriots in Week 6, when Bill Belichick will try to attack him as the weak spot in the otherwise solid Dallas offensive front.
Once again, Wilson isn’t here because of anything he’s done or not done on the field, it’s because he’s been unable to do anything at all. The Cowboys starting safety has been sidelined for weeks now with a groin injury, and that’s allowed Kearse to make a massive impression on the team’s coaching staff and front office. The good news for Wilson is he returned to practice to do individual drills in the days ahead of the matchup with the Patriots, so he’s making progress and will return to the field soon. But when he does, he’ll have to beat back Kearse for some safety reps, and it’ll be interesting to see if Kearse is the only of the two who’ll see linebacker work in big nickel formations.
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