The Dallas Cowboys made their shocking 28-16 loss at the Arizona Cardinals feel like a bad, far away dream in Week 4 as they thumped the New England Patriots in a 38-3 smackdown. The 35-point loss is the largest of future Hall of Fame head coach Bill Belichick's career. All three of the Cowboys wins have been by 20 or more points, matching their total of such games from their 12-win 2022 campaign. This early season dominance makes them only the second team in the last 45 years with multiple 35-point victories in their first four games, joining the 2021 Buffalo Bills.
Here is a look at some of the Cowboys' biggest storylines from a dominant Sunday, including a look at their buzzsaw defense and a check up on their red zone offense.
The Cowboys defense once again looks like the NFL's best
Overreaction or Reality: Reality
The Dallas Cowboys defense lived up to the hype through the first two weeks of the 2023, leading the NFL in nearly every key metric after throttling the New York Giants and New York Jets by a combined score of 70-10. Their hiccup against the Cardinals, their first game without Pro Bowl cornerback Trevon Diggs after his season-ending ACL tear, caused them to . All-Pro linebacker Micah Parsons promised " " on Wednesday, and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn guaranteed a return to a form earlier in the week.
Both were proven correct with the Cowboys' performance on Sunday as Dallas held New England scoreless on its final 10 drives of the game. Despite not recording a sack, Parsons was up there as one of the most disruptive pass rushers this week. He tied Chargers Pro Bowl outside linebacker Khalil Mack for the most quarterback pressures in Week 4 with nine. Mack, meanwhile, totaled six sacks on Sunday against the Raiders, tied for the most in a game in NFL history.
That pressure added up as Patriots quarterback Mac Jones committed three turnovers, two interceptions and a lost fumble. Defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. strip-sacked Jones, and the football rolled into the arms of linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who returned the fumble back 11 yards for a touchdown. With Vander Esch's fumble return touchdown and Bland's interception return touchdown, the Cowboys have two defensive scores. They're the only team this season with multiple games involving multiple non-offensive touchdowns. There were only five such games across the NFL all of 2022. Cowboys cornerback DaRon Bland, Trevon Diggs' injury replacement on the outside, read Jones' eyes perfectly and snatched the football away from Patriots receiver Kendrick Bourne for an interception with under a minute to go in the second half. Bland then easily waltzed into the end zone for his second interception return touchdown of the season. This pick went 54 yards for the score, increasing the Dallas lead to 28-3.
|Cowboys defense||WEEKS 1-2||WEEK 3 AT CARDINALS||WEEK 4 VS. PATRIOTS|
Total Yards Allowed
Rush Yards Allowed
QB Pressure Rate
* Led NFL
Thanks to getting their swagger back on Sunday, the Dallas defense once again leads the NFL in points per game allowed (10.3), quarterback pressure rate (55.6%, no other team is above 45%) and passer rating allowed (55.2, no other team has a rating allowed under 65). They rank second in the league in total yards per game allowed (259.8), passing yards per game allowed (148.0) and rank tied for second in takeaways (10).
Ahead of their "Sunday Night Football" showdown with the 4-0 San Francisco 49ers, the team that has ended Dallas' season in each of its last two playoff runs, the Cowboys look like the NFL's scariest defense with spooky season coming around the corner.
Second-year cornerback DaRon Bland can play at a Pro Bowl-level as an outside corner
Overreaction or Reality: Reality
Here's what Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn had to say about Bland after the Week 3 loss against the Cardinals on Monday, prior to his two-interception game against the Patriots.
"I thought he was one of the guys that stood out to me in a really strong, solid way," Quinn said last Monday. "I have always been impressed by DaRon's tackling, and I saw that again yesterday [on Sunday]. For him to move outside without a lot of work doing that, it was a real sign of what he is up for. He is always down for a challenge. We had been working with him outside, but once you get into the season, you fall into your normal rhythm. After practice Thursday [after Trevon Diggs tore his ACL] is when we made the move to have him go full-time outside, I was pleased with what I saw from him and Jourdan [Lewis] with more reps inside."
Quinn won't be doing backflips at his weekly media availability on Monday, but he'll definitely have plenty of praise for the second-year corner, whose eight career interceptions since 2022 are the most in the NFL. Two of those picks came Sunday, including a 54-yard pick-six.
Bland's 21.3 passer rating allowed in coverage was his lowest of the season, and his 18.7 passer rating allowed in coverage this season ranks as the sixth-best in the NFL among players with at least 10 passes thrown their way. Bland's three interceptions in 2023 co-lead the NFL alongside Jets safety Jordan Whitehead and Falcons safety Jessie Bates III. If he can keep this type of play up going forward, Bland will find himself on the NFC Pro Bowl team.
The Cowboys finally scoring a red zone touchdown means their issues inside the 20 are gone
Overreaction or Reality: Overreaction
Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy opted to have Dallas receive the opening kickoff, and the Cowboys quickly marched down inside the red zone, an area that was their focus in practice this week after starting 6 for 15 in red zone touchdown rate through their first three games. Quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Tony Pollard ran into each other on the handoff exchange on third-and-goal from the 1, which resulted in a loss of 4 yards. Second-round rookie tight end Luke Schoonmaker dropped what would have been a red zone touchdown after Prescott hit him in the hands in the middle of the end zone through tight traffic from the 18 earlier in the drive. In the second and third quarters, the Cowboys also came up short inside the 20. They had to settle for three red zone field goals, making them 7 for 19 in red zone touchdown rate this season. Rookie kicker Brandon Aubrey's three made field goals make him 13 for 13 to begin his NFL career.
Prescott finished with 261 passing yards and a touchdown on 28 of 34 passing while Lamb hauled in four passes for 36 yards, 20 of which came on his touchdown. Dallas did finally experience a breakthrough inside the 20 as undrafted rookie fullback Hunter Luepke's 3-yard plunge ended the Cowboys' dry spell of seven consecutive red zone drives without a touchdown.
However, that score came with backups in the game on both sides and after the score was already 31-3. Dallas co-leads the NFL with 19 red zone drives along with the Buffalo Bills, but their red zone touchdown rate is 36.8%, the third worst in the league. Only the Houston Texans (35.7%) and the New Orleans Saints (33.3%) are worse. If the Cowboys are going to make the most out of their 2023 season, more work in this area needs to be done.
WR CeeDee Lamb is on the brink of a breakout after his first touchdown of the season
Overreaction or Reality: Reality
One of the most common routes run in the red zone and near the goal line is the fade. It's the route Cowboys 2022 Second-Team All-Pro receiver CeeDee Lamb utilized to get free for his 20-yard touchdown against the Patriots on Sunday. It's also a route McCarthy spoke about featuring Lamb on earlier this week.
"Yeah, I definitely like the fade route," McCarthy said last Monday. "I think it's one of your primary routes down there. I think CeeDee [Lamb] and Michael [Gallup] are excellent body types for that with their skill sets, attention to detail and footwork. The footwork is a tad different than it was before. There is definitely some adjustment there as far as the way we have done it in the past."
The score was Lamb's first of 2023, and given the emphasis on getting him the football, more points should be in the 24-year-old's future.
"I think what you're seeing is the natural progression," McCarthy Brandin Cooks]. We'll utilize that.". "We understand what it was like when he was here as a rookie, but now, specifically last year, he was featured a tremendous amount in the pass game. We need to continue to do that, especially now that we have more speed around him, too [with the addition of