Are these Dallas Cowboys for real?


Do they belong? Is this real?

Let’s call it what it is. The Mid-October AFC Championship Game kicks off at 3:25 p.m. Sunday when Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills travel to Kansas City to play Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.

One more time around for the game’s best young quarterbacks. No surprises there.

And then at 7:20 p.m., it’s the Mid-October NFC Championship Game at Lincoln Financial Field with Cooper Rush leading the Dallas Cowboys into battle against Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles.

All right, not everyone had this on their preseason dance cards.

Do they belong? Is this real?

The records speak loudly enough. The 5-0 Eagles remain the NFL’s only unbeaten team. Hurts has gone from erratic to brutally efficient as a passer, not to mention those six rushing touchdowns in the first five games. Philadelphia’s defense has been overhauled. The Eagles lead the NFL in turnover margin. A team that won free agency and the draft is reaping immediate benefits.

Now what about the Eagles’ opponents?

It’s not really even about Rush although his 5-0 record as a starter the last two seasons is record setting and remarkable. While the Cowboys need him to continue his steady play — this is assuming Dak Prescott isn’t ready to come off the top rope and leap back into battle — it’s not the Dallas offense that has elevated the team to its lofty perch.

In his four games, Rush has thrown for fewer yards than the 49ers’ designated handoff man Jimmy G has in his four. Because of the time share in the backfield with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, the Cowboys do not have a top 15 rusher. Zeke’s 3.8 yards per carry behind a rebuilt offensive line is his career low.

The Cowboys do not grace the top 15 in receiving yards, either. Thoughts that CeeDee Lamb would instantly spring into the elite category with Amari Cooper shuffled off to Cleveland have been placed on hold. Lamb has been good, not great.

It is the defense that sets Dallas apart from its NFC competitors. It is the presence of Micah Parsons that feels as though it has changed everything about this franchise, almost erasing its recent history of playoff stumbles and absences. And, admittedly, even Parsons is 0-1 in the postseason until further notice.

Some of us questioned how Dallas could get as much out of its defense as it did in 2021 when the Cowboys led the NFL in takeaways. Those things are fluid and few teams are good enough to repeat year after year. Indeed, the Cowboys are outside the top 12 in takeaways after five weeks, but they are tied for second in turnover margin because the offense, behind a backup quarterback, has been so careful with the football. Just two turnovers in five games. That’s the real offensive contribution to this 4-1 record.

Parsons and the defense are taking care of the rest. The Cowboys are the only team that has not allowed two touchdowns in a game this season. Even the Bills and the 49ers’ great units have done that. The Cowboys’ 20 quarterback sacks place them one behind San Francisco for the league lead (both have feasted on Matthew Stafford and the Rams’ porous line the last two weeks), and Parsons is tied for the NFL lead with six.

His performance in Los Angeles — playing through a groin injury and still being all over Stafford at the finish line — only adds to the lore he has created in little more than one season in Dallas. There are a handful of players that come along and make you think about a franchise in completely different fashion.

Mahomes in Kansas City and Allen in Buffalo. Aaron Donald with the Rams. Parsons is quickly joining this particular crowd and doing it in his own style. He’s truly capable of lining up at any spot in the Dallas front seven.

The Eagles believe in their defense, too. Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham have been doing it up front for a while, and linebacker Haason Reddick looks every bit the huge offseason addition he was promised to be. Hurts has elevated himself into MVP discussion — incredible, really, given that some thought this season was his final trial before the Eagles went off in pursuit of a more fully developed passer.

An unbeaten team that already has rushed for 12 touchdowns takes on a red-hot defense that prides itself on getting after passers and stopping everything. And, oh, the Cowboys have allowed one rushing touchdown (Saquon Barkley’s breakaway) in five games.

As the hype for this game grows throughout the week, it still won’t reach the 1992 level when, oddly, both the Eagles and Cowboys had a Week 4 bye. That provided 15 days to get ready for a Monday night battle of 3-0 teams in Philly that the Eagles won going away. They sacked Troy Aikman on the first play and it went downhill after that in a 31-7 defeat.

That game’s not so memorable here since the Cowboys won not only the November rematch but the playoff battle, 34-10, on the way to crushing Buffalo 52-17 in the Super Bowl.

A reminder that this is just the first meeting. The Cowboys and Eagles play again in a special Christmas Eve treat here. And with Aaron Rodgers’ and Tom Brady’s two-loss teams looking especially beatable now, there’s no reason to think this isn’t merely the first part of a trilogy.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post