NFL

NFL AM: Are The Cowboys The Best Team In The NFC?

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No More QB Controversy

The Dallas Cowboys are the hottest team in the NFL as they’ve won five straight games.  They’ve done it with a rookie quarterback who entered training camp as third-string, a rookie running back, numerous player suspensions and said rookie quarterback has been without his best target, wide receiver Dez Bryant, for the last two games.

Whoever is playing and whoever isn’t playing doesn’t seem to matter much these days for the Cowboys.  They win football games by imposing their will on their opponents.

We’ve talked about their leader under center, fourth-round pick Dak Prescott, who keeps playing efficient, winning football and if the season were to end today he would be on the very short list of MVP candidates.

“You just couldn’t ask for more inspiration from a player because everybody on this team knows what a difficult position that is to play,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.

Will Prescott remain the starter in two weeks when the team takes on the Philadelphia Eagles?  The Cowboys Czar wouldn’t say for certain.

“I wouldn’t say unequivocally anything other than we just beat the Green Bay Packers in Green Bay,” Jones said following the game when asked who his team’s starting quarterback would be.

We could spend 1,000 words talking about the brilliance and surprising play of the young rookie, but that’s just one part of the equation of why the Cowboys are winning games.  Just like the Dallas teams of the early to mid 1990’s, they are simply imposing their will offensively on opposing defenses.  Rookie running back Ezekiel Elliot is leading the NFL in rushing, behind the best offensive line in the business.

Is this the same brand of dominance as to when the Cowboys were winning titles?  Offensively yes, just with less flashy names.  Dallas doesn’t win games with tricks and deception, but with physical play.  They simply blow opposing defenses off the line of scrimmage and Elliot does a fantastic job of running through the holes provided to him while making opposing tacklers miss.

“This is what I’ve worked my whole life for and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Elliot said on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football.

Where there were thoughts that Dallas had too many other holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball to draft a “luxury position,” running back, with the fourth-overall pick, Elliot is proving the Jones family of football decision makers to be right on point.

What else is working for the Cowboys, but largely overshadowed by the play of the rookies and offensive line has been the play of the Dallas secondary.  Byron Jones, 2015’s first-round pick by the team is quickly ascending toward elite status while vacillating between free safety and lining up in the slot.  He has off the charts athleticism and legitimate football instincts.  Former first-round bust Morris Claiborne may have been labeled too soon.  Claiborne is playing great football after a subpar start to his career.

“We knew that he was an exceptional athlete,” Jones said recently about Claiborne, “but he has met his challenges, and that makes it even more impressive because he’s gotten better at the areas he’s needed to better, gotten more strength, overcame his injuries — all of those things are coming to bear out there on the kind of season he’s having.”

The Cowboys still have some legitimate issues with the pass rush and there are question marks about their linebackers, but if the secondary keeps playing at a high level and the offense continues to play keep away, a real case can be made that the Cowboys are the best team in the NFC.

The Plays That Changed Sunday

We had a full slate of games on Sunday and many came down to a play here and a play there.  We’re going to go over the instances were games were won and lost.

Seahawks 26, Falcons 24

“Nuts and bolts, nuts and bolts!”- The Atlanta Falcons had their four-game winning streak halted at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks, who were aided by a inexcusable missed call.  On a 4th-and-10 play with less than two minutes remaining, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw deep for Julio Jones, who had his right arm locked up by Richard Sherman.  Jones attempted to catch the football with his left hand, but could not and when the dust settled Atlanta lost, and head coach Dan Quinn was (rightfully) irate on the sidelines.  

“As you go through the last play — usually one game doesn’t define us. So we’ll look at it,” a much calmer Quinn told reporters after the game. “We certainly had other opportunities in the game to go capitalize and finish, so we won’t let it come down to one time for us, or at least comment on that.”

A first down in that spot puts the Falcons into field goal range.  What would’ve happened at that point is anyone’s guess.

“I do (think I was interfered with),” Jones told reporters after the game. “Before I took off, he grabbed my right side and spun me around before I jumped up. But it was just a missed call. It’s over with. It’s done. We on to the next one now.”

Giants 27, Ravens 23

“Beckham proposes!”- Emotional New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. made another play for his ever-growing career highlight reel as he caught a slant on 4th-and-1, and took it 66 yards to the house to give the Giants the victory over Baltimore and end their three-game losing skid.

Beckham had a hip pointer that was slowing him somewhat.

“I am going to go out there and play the same way every time,” Beckham said of his many problems on the field this season. “I don’t think I played any different besides me being injured. It was the same passing. I think because I was hurt I couldn’t express it as much as I wanted to.”

The fiery wide receiver received a 15-yard penalty for his post-touchdown antics that could have cost the team dearly at the end, but didn’t.  No matter what you say about Beckham, quarterback Eli Manning and New York as a whole is a much better team with him.

Jaguars 17, Bears 16

In one of the ugliest games on Sunday, the Jacksonville Jaguars rallied from 13 points down in the fourth quarter to beat the Chicago Bears.  The play that changed the game was when quarterback Blake Bortles found special teams ace and minimally used wide receiver Arrelious Benn on a slant pattern where Benn slipped, then was smart enough to get up and scamper 51 yards to pay-dirt.  

Benn, a former second-round pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had been pretty much left for dead in NFL circles and is trying to revitalize his career in Jacksonville.

“That goes to show you that I went through a lot of adversity,” said Benn , who was sidelined by injuries to his knee and clavicle. “I had a lot of injuries, being injured three years, being out of football for three years. I know it’s a slow process as far as getting back, especially behind the guys we have here.

“For me, I looked at it as an opportunity for me to better myself as far as those years I missed and also to bring that veteran leadership to the younger guys and help make those guys better.”

 


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.