From paybacks to paydays, Cowboys bye-week assessment provides positives a plenty
The bye week is here for the Dallas Cowboys and it could not have come at a better time. Their MVP candidate, quarterback Dak Prescott, suffered a calf strain tin completing a game-winning pass for their fifth victory in a row. It isn’t considered serious but it does need rest and the team can use the week off to get a few other players healthy as well.
Sitting at 5-1, and the way that record has been accomplished, is about as good as anybody could’ve asked for with the Cowboys. The team has played great complimentary football. They sport an elite offense, just as most expected, but also have created an opportunistic defense that leads the NFL in defensive scores with three, leading the club to sit third in turnover differential at +7.
Aside from the record and the bandwagon being fired up, here’s where those things have gotten the Cowboys as they take a few days off.
First place in the NFC East
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The Cowboys are looking good to win the division with a three-game lead over the Washington Football Team and the Philadelphia Eagles, as well as a four-game head start on the New York Giants. Even better, the Cowboys have already beaten the Eagles and Giants to give even more of a cushion.
It feels safe to say Dallas is a shoe in to win the NFC East and host a playoff game, but there is still work to be done. The back half of the schedule isn’t a cake walk and includes six games where the opponents are currently .500 or better. And after their annual Thanksgiving game, the Cowboys will be home for just two of their final six matchups.
The Cowboys also play four of their final five games against division rivals, and go on the road against all three to finish the season. Their work is far from done.
Offense is off the charts
(AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
There wasn’t much doubt if Prescott came back healthy the Cowboys would have one of the better offenses in the league. With Prescott playing a high level, the offense is indeed humming.
Dallas ranks at the top, or near the top, in every major statistical category. The Cowboys have the top ranked offense, averaging 460.8 yards a game, rank second in rushing yards and lead the league in points per contest, scoring just over 34 points a game.
The offense is clicking in all facets and moving the ball at will. If it weren’t for some penalties and turnovers in the red zone, the Cowboys might be putting up 40 burgers on offense more than occasionally.
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
In an oddity, the Cowboys have teams on their schedule they haven’t had much success against. It had been a long time since they had beaten the Chargers organization, the Carolina Panthers and the New England Patriots, but the Cowboys stopped those losing streaks cold.
The only team that remains where the Cowboys now have a lengthy losing streak against is the Denver Broncos, who are the Week 9 opponent. It’s been 26 years since Dallas have beaten the Broncos, losing their last six games.
Beating the Broncos would mean more redemption.
Roster is on its way back to original form
The Cowboys have won five games in a row, despite missing several key pieces. DE DeMarcus Lawrence (foot), WR Michael Gallup (calf), and RT La’el Collins (suspension) haven’t played since Week 1, while DT Neville Gallimore (elbow) and CB Kelvin Joseph (hamstring) haven’t played a snap yet. Add in depth players TE Sean McKeon (ankle) and OT Josh Ball (ankle), who haven’t played any snaps either, and the Cowboys have help coming.
They won’t get them all back immediately after the bye week, but the Cowboys do have some good players returning to bring reinforcements. Getting quality players back provides depth and keeps others fresh for the stretch run.
Dallas has rookies — LB Micah Parsons, DT Osa Odighizuwa, and DE Chauncey Golston — who could potentially hit the dreaded rookie wall if they continue to log such a high number of reps. The returning players will be a huge boost for the Cowboys, not many teams can say the same.
Guys are making themselves a lot of money
The Cowboys do well in drafting, which means their stock of players in contract years is always going to be relatively high. Many of those guys have made themselves some money through six games. Gallup has always been on the path to a big money deal, so his injury likely doesn’t his change his status much, but there are others earning themselves a good payday.
Defensive end Randy Gregory leads the list. The talented pass rusher has been the best pressure player for the Dallas defense, leading them in sacks (4) and has been a menace coming off the edge with relentless pressure that routinely moves the quarterback off his spot or draws holding penalities. Gregory changed the momentum in the game against the Patriots and was the highest graded defensive player from Week 6.
Tight end Dalton Schultz is having a career year in a contract season. The fourth-year pro has proven to be a reliable target for Prescott, second on the team in catches (31), third in yards (359), third in touchdowns (3) and third in first-down receptions (19). After a slow start, Schultz has four straight games with at least five catches, becoming the No. 1 TE in Dallas.
Fellow receiving option Cedrick Wilson has proven to be a legitimate weapon as well. Without Gallup, Wilson has taken over as WR3 and he’s making the most of his opportunities. The fourth-down reception against the Patriots was simply more proof of Prescott’s trust in Wilson.
Starting left guard Connor Williams has been much maligned, but does rank No. 12 in PFF’s grade for guards despite his less-than-stellar performance in Week 6 and will garner free agency attention as well. Safety Jayron Kearse has played above expectations as a one-year free agent signing.
The Cowboys will have decisions to make after the season, but that’s a problem for a few months down the road.
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