I took some playful criticism from friends over my last piece on the Cowboys two weeks ago. The boys in silver and blue had just beaten the lowly San Francisco 49ers for a much-needed win that managed to pull them back to .500 on the season. Some felt that I was a bit dismissive of the victory and that the tone of the story was more than a tad too doom-and-gloomy, especially considering how the Cowboys absolutely decimated the Niners. It’s true enough that genuine good news about the team was in pretty short supply at the time, so I can maybe see how my friends felt that I was whizzing in their Cheerios.
I admit it, when it comes to football, I live in the world of the worst-case scenario. As a Cowboys fan, I’ve been conditioned to it. I’ve had my heart broken by this team so many times that a bit of success is like a Pavlovian bell triggering my inner Richard Lewis’ neurotic presentiment. Going into this season, I had plenty of reservations. The bar of expectation had been set so high by last year’s wild ride to 13-3 that I knew it would be hard to repeat it. The spectre of a potential sophomore slump for quarterback Dak Prescott, a secondary made up of toddlers in relative NFL experience, a brutal first-place schedule, and the Groundhog Day-style Zeke suspension fiasco all tempered my already cynical expectations. All this being said, after what I’ve witnessed over the last two games, I just might –– might –– be brave enough to state (in print, no less) that this is a damn good football team.
Since the Niners game, the Cowboys have rattled off two more impressive wins: a nice 33-19 road victory in Washington and then a surprisingly one-sided 28-17 face-off against the Kansas City Chiefs at home on Sunday. Neither game was really as close as the final score indicated. Take away what was maybe the worst holding call that I’ve ever seen on Tyron Smith, negating an Ezekiel Elliott touchdown (which would have been his third of the game) in Washington, and what was by far the worst “prevent defense” play that I’ve ever seen, which allowed the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill to juke his way 57 yards into the end zone, basically untouched, just before the half on Sunday, and you can add seven more points to the margin of victory in each game. There’s no doubt, the ’Boys are rolling right now.
A large part of their recent success can be placed at the feet of Elliott, who over the last three games has racked up 466 all-purpose yards and six total touchdowns. The second-year runner is definitely what makes this offense go. Elliott effectively accounted for roughly 40 percent of the team’s offensive production during that span. If and when there’s a final resolution to the ping-pong match of his endlessly reinstated and then temporarily stayed suspension, there, no doubt, will be a gigantic hole to fill on the offensive side of the ball. Even though Elliott appeared to carry the team in this stretch of games, there have been plenty of other positives that give me a faint glowing ember of hope that without him, the Cowboys just might be OK.
The return of linebackers Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens solidified a leaky run defense, holding the Chiefs’ dynamic rookie running back Kareem Hunt to just 37 yards, half of which came on one play. Cornerback Orlando Scandrick is finally back to pre-ACL injury form and is modeling his position to the juvenile secondary. The defensive line is getting pressure and sacks in droves, with Defensive Player of the Year front-runner DeMarcus Lawrence leading the pack. Overall, the defense, which barely a month ago looked like the team’s inevitable undoing, has settled down and is playing pretty well now. The offensive line has finally jelled enough that a pending running-back-by-committee scenario in Elliott’s absence should be able to hold its own. Work in some solid production by role player wide receivers Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley, and the Cowboys should still be able to move the ball.
With the Eagles sitting at 8-1 atop the NFC East, a division title for the Cowboys is increasingly less likely. Still, ignoring jinxes and superstitions, even this admitted Cowboys-loving killjoy feels the team is looking good enough to claim one of the wild card slots. Just ignore the crossed fingers behind my back.