You'd think it's all smiles for the Dallas Cowboys after they pummeled Sam Darnold and the Carolina Panthers in Week 4 to go to 3-1 on the season, but not entirely. For while they're certainly pleased to be on a three-game win streak after suffering a gut-wrenching two-point loss to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1, the consensus emanating from the organization is that they still "have a lot of work to do," as quarterback Dak Prescott noted following the win on Sunday. He's not wrong, either, because for as dominant as they've shown they can be, there are still tweaks to be made as they play out the first 17-game season in NFL history.
Michael Gallup with injury, while the defense continues to roll over opposing quarterbacks without the benefit of DeMarcus Lawrence -- joining Gallup on injured reserve for the time being. So many are stepping up to get the job done alongside cornerstone players like Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper on offense, and what's quickly become one on defense in shutdown cornerback Trevon Diggs., an otherwise smooth week requires some recalibration. They're obviously heading in the right direction though, as prolific on offense as they've ever been and despite the absence of
The latest iteration of the CBS Sports "Stock up, Stock down" series for Dallas has arrived, and it's chock full of promises, possibilities and a few players who need to bounce back when the New York Giants come to town in Week 5 -- one in particular trending toward a similar exit as Smith if he doesn't correct his course soon.
[Note: This list is unranked.]
Another week, another interception for Diggs. Only that's not exactly true, because now he's raised the bar by grabbing two interceptions against Darnold and, truth be told, it's not the first game this season he could've walked away from with multiple interceptions. He came scathingly close to having a second in both the regular season opener against Tom Brady and also against Justin Herbert in Week 2, but the overarching point here is Diggs is literally something the Cowboys have never seen before, and that's saying a lot -- considering it's a franchise that basically has its own wing in Canton. for most interceptions through the first four games of any season (4), and then added a fifth for good measure.
He's on pace to shatter the league's record for INTs in a single season and even if he doesn't continue at this insane pace, he's already established himself as one of the best shutdown corners in the NFL -- it taking him only 15 starts to do so. Diggs has been on this list every week thus far, and keeps finding ways to push his stock higher, to the point it's leaving the galaxy now.
Gregory has gone from overcoming a mountain of adversity to becoming just that to opposing NFL quarterbacks. His two sacks against Darnold were extremely impressive, but. In looking at the film, he's not wrong, and that should terrify any QB he lines up against going forward. You could make the argument Gregory could've sacked Darnold on four separate occasions, and he's been getting tremendous pressure before Sunday, hurrying Brady and Herbert en route to his would-be blockers either being charged with holding penalties or holding him and not being charged with one. Seeing as a holding call creates negative yards as well, Gregory is fine with getting that type of disruption as well, but putting his hands on the QB is what makes his Cinnamon Toast Crunch taste great the next morning.
Now that he's gotten his first taste of it in 2021, you can bet there are more sacks to come, along with hurries, QB hits and holding calls to try and contain him. He's back from his battle with the NFL, the NFLPA and also COVID-19, and he's as destructive as he ever was -- if not more so.
Rumors of Elliott's demise were greatly exaggerated. For a third consecutive week, he's been critical to the success of the Cowboys offense, and they're now on a three-game win streak because of it. His latest haymaker was thrown at the chin of the vaunted Panthers defense -- a unit praised for their ability to stop the run heading into Week 4. Elliott took them out back and beat them like a dirty rug on Sunday, rushing for 143 yards and a touchdown while gaining 99 yards after contact (4.95 per carry). In his last two outings, Elliott is averaging 4.2 yards after contact and while Pollard provides a dynamic complement when called upon, having a great game in Week 2 against the Chargers and solid games in the two contests to follow, Elliott has issued a powerful reminder of why he's the RB1 in Dallas, and the Panthers defense won't and can't disagree.
The two-time NFL rushing champ has now amassed 356 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns in his last three games, and all of his rabid offseason training is paying off in a big way. This is no longer a team that needs Elliott to be the biggest weapon on the field to win games, but when they want him to be, he's eating half the buffet and leaving teeth marks in the table as well.
On this Zeke run in #Cowboys win:— Patrik [No C] Walker (@VoiceOfTheStar) October 4, 2021
Patience + recognition + quickness + speed.
Jump cut right, pause and assess, then jump cut left and explode through the hole with so much speed that even the safety runs into his own CB.
All in an instant.pic.twitter.com/3BM2ABPtgT
"We feel like we can beat you with the run, we can beat you with the pass -- whatever you're going to give us."
Those words by Prescott following the win over the Panthers are ringing exceedingly true in 2021, because the Cowboys are providing plenty of evidence to support them. They used a combination of both against a Carolina defense that had a tough go at stopping Elliott, which led to Prescott having a big day himself, but not in yards. For while the two-time Pro Bowler threw for only 198 yards on the day, he torched the Panthers with four passing touchdowns -- to four different players. And for those wondering if his ankle is OK, wonder no more, because his 35 rushing yards kept the chains moving on key drives and Prescott noted it was the fastest he's run in a long time. He's playing top-shelf football in his return from injury and whether he's blitzed or not, and whether the opposing defense plays the pass or not, Prescott is wheeling and dealing heading into Week 5.
Fractured ribs? No problem. Fractured ribs plus a tweaked hamstring? Cooper doesn't care because if he "can run", he's taking the field and not as a decoy, as most banged up receivers would be. The four-time Pro Bowler left the game early for evaluation and missed the second Cowboys possession against the Panthers, but he'd return, and with napalm strapped to his chest. Trying to expand on a 2-14 lead atop the third quarter, Prescott hip-faked a pass to the flat to give Cooper the split second he needed to execute his defender with a double move that resulted in a 35-yard touchdown -- reeling in a perfectly placed throw by Prescott that dropped in over Cooper's shoulder as he fell into the end zone.
Cooper went on to lead the team with 69 receiving yards, grabbing all three of his targets, to go along with that touchdown, and don't count on him letting his injuries cost him the Week 5 battle with the New York Giants, either. The Cowboys best wideout expects to be on the field, and that means he's always only one move from breaking the game wide open, as he tends to do.
For a second consecutive week, Wilson pushes his stock north on this list. That's because, for a second consecutive week, he's delivered a key touchdown for the Cowboys and, not that it counts for extra points on the scoreboard, his pizzazz in doing so definitely adds style points to his resume. In Week 3, it was Wilson hauling in a toe drag touchdown on fourth-and-2 in the back of the end zone to help do away with the Philadelphia Eagles. Six days later, Prescott found Wilson yet again, and this time he did his best Michael Jackson impression -- spinning away from his defender to trot into the end zone untouched.
One of the most talented but continually unsung heroes of the loaded Cowboys receiving corps, it seems like all Wilson does is make big plays when he's targeted. And as Michael Gallup continues to rehab his calf on injured reserve, the onus has been on a player like Wilson to step up and be another weapon for Prescott. He's been just that, as he was in 2020 before Prescott was lost for the season. Wilson is another example of an unusual suspect making other teams pay for thinking he's just another guy in a jersey.
Seriously, how good is this Cowboys draft class in 2021? The team has yet to get a regular season snap from injured starting defensive tackle Neville Gallimore, former second-round pick Trysten Hill continues to rehab on the PUP list, and even veteran Carlos Watkins has now missed two games with injury (knee), but thanks to the defensive rookie class, you wouldn't know any of this was going on in Dallas. That's because players like Odighizuwa have been a revelation at their position, and that's saying the least. The third-round pick is off to a fantastic start to his NFL career, and you can readily see how high his ceiling is. Usually it takes a couple of years for defensive lineman to find their legs at the pro level, but Odighizuwa has proven himself to be an exception to that rule -- delivering two sacks and seven quarterback hits in his last three games alone.
Consider the fact Odighizuwa is averaging only 53.5% of the defensive snaps and you're quickly beginning to see just how valuable he's already become for the Cowboys. With Watkins set to return and Gallimore not far behind, this is a team that's gone from razor-thin depth on their defensive line to an embarrassment of riches, thanks in large part to Odighizuwa and others like Quinton Bohanna and Chauncey Golston.
Speaking of Golston, here's a guy ... OK, sorry, I couldn't help myself there. All kidding aside, though, Golston is another rookie third-round pick who's hitting the ground running but, unlike Odighizuwa, he didn't have training camp to prepare him for the rigors of what the regular season present in the NFL. He missed the entirety of camp with injury and wasn't activated for his first game until Week 3, after the Cowboys ramped him up for his debut. He'd help keep the pressure on Jalen Hurts (two, to be exact) but wasn't able to land his first career sack, going on to rectify that against Darnold and the Panthers.
Golston joined Odighizuwa to have a party at the QB on Sunday, and also racked up five combined tackles in the win. The rookie has owner Jerry Jones beaming, and he's another notch in a draft belt the Cowboys are using to spank their opponents with.
"We just say 'MAC'. It's the Mac Show. Mac goes in there and he gives us everything."
That's offensive coordinator Kellen Moore describing the offensive package that turns McGovern from an offensive lineman into a fullback, and with great success. The former third-round pick (2019) has taken six reps as a fullback and two of those were in the end zone -- Elliott scoring on both occasions. And on the other four? Well, the Cowboys running game gained 28 combined yards, and an average of seven yards per play is nothing to shake a stick at. McGovern's value to the roster is skyrocketing because he's not only shown he can get things done on the interior of the offensive line, but as the Cowboys try to figure out creative ways to get him on the field with the return of Zack Martin and Connor Williams remaining the starting left guard in a contract year, all McGovern has done is nod and power forward -- both figuratively and literally speaking.
Another week, another appearance for the electric rookie on this list. Parsons is something rarely ever seen at the NFL level, having an ability to do nearly everything on defense, and effectively. In the first two outings without All-Pro pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, the first-round pick was tasked with taking the bulk of his game reps at defensive end, and Justin Herbert wishes the Cowboys hadn't made that move. Parsons harassed Herbert all game up to and including landing what would be a game-sealing sack in the fourth quarter, and he then set his sights on adding Jalen Hurts to his "hit list", before putting hands on the Eagles QB as well.
In Week 4, Parsons was moved back to mostly linebacker and didn't bat an eye. Only 16 of his snaps were on the defensive line while 48 were in the box, and he even logged three as a slot corner, one as a wide corner and one as a free safety -- per PFF -- landing another sack in the process and four tackles on the day. He's rapidly becoming the Bobby Wagner in Quinn's attempts to design the Legion of Boom 2.0 in Dallas.
Man on Fire is a legendary movie, but it also perfectly describes how Kearse is playing on his one-year contract in Dallas. When starting safety Donovan Wilson initially went down with a groin injury, Kearse got his opportunity to do damage and he's now achieved that mission to the point of being named starter on Sunday against the Panthers. And, yet again, the unheralded veteran safety was seen flying all over the field and also being an emotional leader for the defensive unit.
Kearse had six combined tackles against Carolina (t-1st), a QB hit and two tackles for loss in the Cowboys win. That's definitely good enough to see his stock rise that much more over last week, when it was already on the upswing.
For the third straight week, roses land at Steele's feet. Has he been perfect in his first three games of La'el Collins suspension? No, he hasn't, but he's been damn good, and that can't be argued. The former undrafted free agent has now logged 87 snaps in pass coverage in his three starts, and allowed only one quarterback hit, five quarterback hurries and no sacks on Prescott -- including helping to shut down All-Pro pass rusher Joey Bosa. Steele had a couple of missed assignments against the Panthers he'll need to clean up before the Giants stroll into town, but it's looking more and more like the Cowboys have finally found their definitive backup swing tackle, to the point that the return of Ty Nsekhe this week will cost Steele precisely zero snaps.
The plan is for Nsehke, who's returning from a heat-related illness, to operate as backup swing tackle as the Cowboys continue to allow Steele to start at right tackle. And as long as he continues to do well there, with two more games remaining until Collins returns to the club, the Cowboys offense will keep rolling along as it has been for more than a month now.
Vander Esch made his presence felt against the Panthers, increasing his stock over a quiet game against the Eagles that didn't necessarily tell the full story of his impact. At this point, it's only a matter of consistency for Vander Esch, but he's playing well, all things considered. And for Bohanna, a defensive rookie I named above who is also doing great things alongside Odighizuwa and now Golston, it's about staying the course and continuing to be impressive on the defensive interior.
Hooker continues to be a steady hand at the safety position and while he's playing in rotation behind Damontae Kazee -- who is responsible for two critical takeaways already this season and a bone-jarring hit against the Panthers that was as legal as driving through a green light -- the former first-round pick continues to make timely tackles as he gets back to top form; something Pollard is already operating at, as he delivered yet another solid complementary performance to Elliott's bludgeoning of the opposing defense.
Brown saw his stock rise last week thanks to an interception on Hurts but, as noted then, his inconsistency in coverage could again be his downfall. Right on cue, that's precisely what we see on film from his matchup with the Panthers. It was a mixed back of impact tackles and passes defensed, only to see him drop an interception in the fourth quarter that would've nailed the coffin shut on Darnold -- after Trevon Diggs had already picked him off twice in the third quarter. Darnold went on to lead the Panthers to a touchdown on that very drive, and Brown can only walk into Week 5 hoping he can finally eliminate the "oh no" plays and start stacking the ones that make Cowboys coaches smile, because the return of rookie second-round pick Kelvin Joseph looms.
It's rapidly becoming now-or-never for the veteran cornerback. If Joseph comes in and dominates after missing games due to injury, it'll be the cherry on top of a stellar 2021 defensive draft class and rapidly push Brown to Quinn's backburner -- seeing as Joseph is Quinn's draft guy (along with Nahshon Wright). That means if Brown doesn't permanently course correct, it's possible his arc could mirror that of Smith, for both contractual and snap count reasons.
Brown wasn't the only one with a mixed bag on Sunday against Carolina, which has become unusual territory for the now consistent and productive Schultz. It's unclear what kind of gloves the former fourth-round pick was wearing in Week 4, but take them out back and burn them with fire. The first called fumble on Schultz actually wasn't one at all, so let's blow right past that one. The second time the ball was put on the ground, however, was most certainly a fumble -- the Cowboys getting the benefit of a the officials blowing the play dead due to forward progress. There are plenty of times when the officiating has gashed Dallas this season and in years past, but Schultz dodged a massive bullet, and it led to Prescott finding Blake Jarwin to give the Cowboys a 13-7 lead in the early second quarter.
Schultz bounced back with a touchdown and 58 receiving yards, but now that he's shown he's better than the mistakes we saw on Sunday, the bar is raised accordingly, and anything less than quality football from him will lower his stock a bit -- as it did this week.
Wilson can't heal any faster than his body will allow, and that's just a fact. That said, another fact is that the longer he's sidelined, the higher Kearse's stock soars and, by default, the more it pushes the stock on Wilson against the wall. This is a great problem for the Cowboys to have, mind you, considering they entered 2021 with yet another list of questions about how they'd look to improve the safety position. Wilson had a breakout season in 2020 and the issue was to find others to dominate beside and behind him, but his injury thrusts Kearse into the limelight opposite Kazee, with Hooker in rotation.
The sooner Wilson can get back, the better, for a safety room that's now extremely deep, but also for him as an individual who's been relegated to watching his starting role inch further and further away with each passing rep. As it stands, the fight's on when he returns to practice, because Kearse is as relentless as Wilson is when it comes to making plays -- including the ones that don't make the highlight reel.
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