Scout’s Take: Mike McCarthy Has This Team Rolling
The Cowboys have won three straight games and with one regular-season game to play, still have a shot to win the NFC East. Help is needed but it’s not too complicated at this point.
The Cowboys are still in this because of an impressive win over the Eagles Sunday.
Here are my 10 quick points from watching the 37-17 win over Philly.
Mike McCarthy has the Cowboys rolling.
It has taken the Cowboys longer than expected to find their groove but McCarthy has his team playing good football heading down the stretch. The Cowboys have scored 30-plus points in three straight games while also generating at least three takeaways in each of those contests. The combination of explosive offense and opportunistic defense has helped the Cowboys chalk up Ws in the win column while also giving them a sustainable team identity. This is an improving team that’s playing with better discipline, effort, and energy. Plus, they’re embracing the concept of playing complementary football with the offense, defense, and special teams units working together to win the game. It took a while for the Super Bowl-winning head coach to get the Cowboys on track but it is better late than never with the division title still up for grabs.
Andy Dalton catches fire.
The three-time Pro Bowler has played the role of a “game manager” for the Cowboys for most of the season but he operated as the team’s primary playmaker against the Eagles. Dalton completed 22 of 30 passes for 377 yards with three scores and an interception. The veteran displayed his full repertoire of skill connecting with seven different pass catchers on a variety of short, intermediate, and deep throws. Dalton’s diverse approach exploited the flaws in the Eagles’ coverage scheme while exposing the lack of talent in their secondary. With Dalton finding his rhythm early against the Eagles’ subpar defense, the Cowboys’ offense rolled up 500 yards and 37 points in a key divisional battle.
The Cowboys’ WR corps eats up the Eagles.
It is hard to find an NFL team with a better threesome on the perimeter than Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb. The trio made their case to be considered the best in the league with a sensational performance against the Eagles in which they combined for 13 catches, 307 receiving yards, and three scores (not including Lamb’s 19-yard touchdown on a fly sweep). While the robust numbers jump off the stat sheet, it was the big play from each pass catcher that changed the game for the Cowboys. Cooper, Gallup, and Lamb each finished with a 50-plus yard reception as they ran past the Eagles’ defense over and over. If the Cowboys continue getting this kind of production from their pass-catching trio, it is going to be hard to deal with an offense with so many explosive weapons on the perimeter and in the backfield.
Zeke is still “The Man”.
There has been a lot of conversation about Ezekiel Elliott’s demise but don’t discount the All-Pro’s ability to carry the load. The fifth-year pro reminded the football world of his greatness with a 100-yard game in which he rushed for 105 yards on 19 carries while adding 34 receiving yards on four catches. The workmanlike effort showcased Elliott’s gritty running style and silenced the critics pushing for his removal from the lineup or a reduced role. Moreover, the veteran’s 28th 100-yard game suggests the Cowboys should continue to feature him as an RB1 based on the team’s success (24-4) when he tops the century mark.
The O-Line holds up.
The Cowboys’ reshuffled offensive line has improved steadily over the past four weeks with quintet jelling together with more experience and reps. Brandon Knight, Connor Williams, Joe Looney, Connor McGovern, and Terence Steele controlled the Eagles’ defensive line in the trenches. On passing downs, in particular, the Cowboys’ frontline was able to build a fortress in front of Dalton to keep him upright and protected in the pocket. Although the veteran quarterback was sacked twice and tasted seven QB hits, the solid pass protection enabled the Cowboys to stay in attack mode against a vulnerable Eagles’ defense.
Randy Gregory puts on a show.
The Cowboys have been waiting on the ultra-athletic defender to break out after seeing him flash each week since his return in Week 8. Against the Eagles, Gregory put it together during an impressive six-tackle effort that included 1.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, and a pass breakup. The long, rangy pass-rusher tormented the Eagles with his first-step quickness, athleticism, and non-stop motor on passing downs. Gregory’s pass rush prowess and his knack for knocking the ball loose on strip-sack efforts not only adds a dimension to the Cowboys’ pass rush but it forces quarterbacks to pay attention to his whereabouts on their drops. In addition, Gregory chased down Hurts and others on running plays as a relentless pursuer from the backside. Considering how speed, athleticism, and hustle can produce turnovers in bunches, the return of No.94 has given the Cowboys’ defense a much-needed spark down the stretch.
Mike Nolan figures it out.
After watching the Eagles race up and down the field the first quarter, the crafty defense coordinators settled his unit down and held Philly to three points the rest of the way. The Cowboys turned things around by paying closer attention to the details in coverage and gap integrity. In addition, the defense played with outstanding energy and displayed great effort running to the ball with reckless abandon.
From a schematic standpoint, Nolan featured more zone coverage, particularly Tampa-2 from dime package that featured a defensive back spying Jalen Hurts from depth. The coverage tweak took limited the rookie’s running lanes and enabled the Cowboys to keep more eyes on the quarterback to make quicker breaks on his throws. With the Cowboys snagging a pair of interceptions (Anthony Brown and Trevon* Diggs) in the coverage, Nolan’s adjustments worked out well for the defense.
The turnovers keep coming.
It is not a coincidence that the Cowboys’ hot streak has been fueled by a surge in takeaways. The team has forced 10 turnovers in their last three games with defenders repeatedly knocking the ball loose and picking off tipped or overthrown passes in their area. The opportunistic defense and special teams units have not only given the Cowboys extra possessions but it has set up their offense for easy scoring opportunities. If the Cowboys can keep the turnover spree going, the playoffs could be a realistic possibility for a team that’s surging down the stretch.
Sean Lee steadies the defense.
The veteran isn’t the same player that dominated the tackle to tackle box during his prime but he remains a valuable asset due to his knowledge, experience, and leadership ability. Lee is a coach on the field and his presence in the lineup certainly appears to settle down the defense. Against the Eagles, the one-time All-Pro calmly directed traffic and settled down a unit that’s suffered from mental lapses and blown assignments. Although Lee’s limitations prevent him from stuffing the stat sheet, he remains a key contributor as a super-sub with the capacity to step in as the defensive leader when needed.
Welcome back, Trevon Diggs.
The rookie cornerback returned to the starting lineup after missing part of the season with an ankle injury. Diggs looked like a trusty veteran on the island with a better feel for the game and understanding of his responsibilities in coverage. The 6-foot-1, 203-pounder appeared to play with more confidence and his improved attention to detail put him in a better position to make plays. Diggs came up with a big play in the fourth quarter when he intercepted an errant Hurts’ pass to seal the victory for the Cowboys in the fourth quarter.