So, what is their for a Dallas Cowboys writer and a New York Giants writer to discuss this week with the Cowboys being massive favorites in Sunday’s Week 10 game? Here are my ‘5 questions’ for Dave Halprin of SB Nation’s Blogging the Boys.
Ed: At 5-3, this is basically the halfway point for the Cowboys. How would you assess what you have seen? Are you happy with the team thus far?
Dave: It’s been a very strange season for the Cowboys. As you guys know, we were the hottest team in the league coming out of the gate with two blowout wins by a combined score of 70-10. Then we inexplicably lost a game to the Cardinals. Dallas is 1-7 against Arizona in their last eight games. There is no reason, it just is. Then the Cowboys responded with another blowout win followed by a blowout loss. I bring this up just to point out how chaotic the Cowboys season has been in 2023. We are not totally sure of just how good the team is and if they are actually legit Super Bowl contenders. One thing that is a positive is the Cowboys offense is finding its form as Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb are just killing it. Overall I’d say we should be okay with the season so far, we’re definitely in playoff contention and that’s always the first priority - make the playoffs. But there is not a strong feeling that we are among the NFC elite so far, losing games to both the Eagles and 49ers. There is a lot of potential for the Cowboys this season, but they just haven’t found a consistency yet to be dominant.
Ed: I asked you before Week 1 about Mike McCarthy taking over the play calling. How has that gone?
Dave: It’s getting better. Through the first part of the season there were definitely growing pains as the Cowboys offense did some things well, and others not so well. We were moving the ball efficiently outside of the red zone, and Prescott’s completion percentage was very good. We were also converting third downs at a very high rate. But we were stumbling badly in the red zone, and our running game hasn’t really found its footing yet. We also had games where we were blown out or held down by an inferior defense. So at that point of the season, I would have said McCarthy’s play-calling was a mixed bag. But since the Rams game, a lot has changed. We are incorporating more pre-snap motion at the line of scrimmage. They are calling deep shots again for Prescott, and they’ve figured out that feeding CeeDee Lamb is a good thing. Over the last few weeks the offense has greatly improved. We still don’t run the ball that well, and we make mistakes like penalties or against the Eagles our right tackle just got dominated. Overall, though, McCarthy’s play-calling and offense seem to be trending in the right direction.
Ed: If you could take one player off the Giants’ roster and put him into the Cowboys’ starting lineup, who would it be? Why?
Dave: I think right now I would take Dexter Lawrence, edging out Kayvon Thibodeaux. The Cowboys haven’t had a great disruptor from the inside defensive line position in a while. Osa Odighizuwa is growing into the role, but he isn’t consistent enough at the moment and could use a partner. Lawrence has been putting together a fantastic season and if we had a line of Micah Parsons, Lawrence, Odighizuwa and DeMarcus Lawrence, that would just be a nightmare for opposing offenses. Thibodeaux has been doing some fine work lately, but the Cowboys have really good depth on the edge behind Parsons and Lawrence. Saquon Barkley may seem like a logical choice given our running game issues, but it really seems like our problems are based on the offensive line’s blocking so just adding Barkley wouldn’t fix that.
Give me Lawrence and let’s go terrorize offenses.
Ed: Biggest surprises for Dallas this season, both positive and negative?
Dave: The biggest positive surprises include Markquese Bell at linebacker, Brandon Aubrey at kicker, and the breakout season of corner DaRon Bland. The Cowboys were thin at linebacker, and then they lost rookie DeMarvion Overshown in the preseason who was expected to play a big role. Then Leighton Vander Esch got hurt and went on IR. In the preseason Dan Quinn moved second-year undrafted free agent safety Markquese Bell to linebacker. He has been really good in the role and has been starting recently because of injury. Without his play, we would be in trouble. Rookie kicker Brandon Aubrey hasn’t missed a kick since he missed his first extra point ever which came against you guys in the opener. He has now set an NFL record by converting 19 straight field goals to start an NFL career. Finally, when Trevon Diggs was lost for the season, there was concern about the secondary. Second-year player DaRon Bland has stepped in and done a phenomenal job after he turned in a good rookie season in 2022. The Cowboys got a steal drafting Bland in the fifth round of 2022.
As for disappointing surprises, one is Brandin Cooks. He was supposed to step in and be a WR2 next to CeeDee Lamb. So far, he and the Cowboys offense have not gotten on the same page. If it wasn’t for his two touchdowns he would have made almost no impact. Also, the run game is disappointing and that spills over to Tony Pollard’s season. We are just not seeing the production from him that we expected. As I mentioned above, a lot of that feels like it’s coming from poor run blocking.
Ed: The spread from DraftKings Sportsbook for this game is an astounding 16 points, and I think it’s absolutely justifiable. If I was betting the spread I would probably still put my money on Dallas. Would you? Why?
Dave: I probably would even though that spread is enormous for an NFL game. One reason is the Cowboys are on an 11-game winning streak at home. Their offense can be a juggernaut at home, and the offense has been improving over the last few weeks. Dallas can, and probably will, score a lot of points in this game. On the flip side, the Giants’ problems at quarterback are almost impossible to overcome. Being down to your third-string guy who has not looked great so far is not a good sign against the Cowboys pass rush and ball-hawking secondary. I think the Cowboys will cover, except for one caveat. Dallas is certainly capable of playing poorly in games they are expected to win, just look at the Cardinals game.