Point / Counterpoint: Finding the Right Measuring Stick for the Dallas Cowboys

A dominant victory over a division rival always gets the ball rolling. That’s exactly what the Dallas Cowboys got in their crush of the Philadelphia Eagles, which wasn’t even as close as the 20-point winning margin would indicate. The win has deep playoff visions dancing through fans’ heads.

Has that really told us enough, though? The Eagles appear to be a hot mess right now. Dallas now faces the Carolina Panthers 3-0. This is perhaps a much better test of how well contenders the Cowboys are. Or maybe not. Our Terence Watson and Tom Ryle take a closer look.

To M: Let me start with Caroline. They didn’t exactly crush a bunch of power plants to achieve that record. They won a fairly narrow, low-profile victory over the New York Jets, who continue to be the dismal 0-3 Jets. They took a win over the Houston Texans, who may not be as good as their 1-2 record suggests. The best win they have is against the New Orleans Saints, who are still an uncertain amount in the post Drew Brees era. There are many observers who find this 3-0 mark somewhat misleading. Now the Panthers enter Dallas without first-round draft pick Jaycee Horn, who entered the injured reserve after the Texans game, and Christian McCaffrey, who is out for a few weeks. These are pretty big hits from both sides of the ball. So, I guess I’m in the “weak timeline” camp on this, and I don’t really think Carolina will be a better indicator than putting the brakes on the Eagles. The huge caveat is IF the Cowboys get a W on Sunday.

Terence: It’s the NFL and things change from week to week, that uncertainty is what makes the sport so great. Just because a team isn’t a powerhouse doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be a snap. Take the first week game for the Cowboys. No one had the Cowboys glued to the defending champion Buccaneers, but it took a last-second field goal for them to beat the Cowboys. The same can be said for the Cowboys’ victory over the Chargers who then turned around and beat the AFC Champion Chiefs last week. That doesn’t mean we’re better than the Chiefs. It just goes to show that on any given Sunday a team can upset anyone. Now, when it comes to the Eagles, the Cowboys had a really good game, but there were points where the Cowboys offensive line was intimidated by the Eagles’ defensive front. They have succeeded in sacking Dak Prescott four times. The Panthers are similar in this regard. They have a really good defensive line that sets the tone for that defense, and with injuries in high school you can see them attacking the Cowboys offensive line the same way the Eagles did last week. So I think this Panthers game will be a good indicator, because if the Cowboys line is still struggling, the teams have a guide to slow this attack down going forward.

To M: Well, there’s one thing we don’t agree on. One thing we have clearly seen is that Kellen Moore can find a way to overcome any defenses thrown at her. I don’t believe there is a plan to beat Dallas as long as Dak remains healthy and there aren’t too many other injuries or people in the COVID protocol. They had some trouble scoring against the Chargers, but not at all against the Buccaneers and Eagles. I have full confidence in the offense. I think the real difference is defense. They had some very good back-to-back games. Getting a win over Justin Herbert shows they can do well against a rising star quarterback. If the quarterback isn’t that good, they’ll harass him and intercept him.

Oddly enough, the Eagles’ utter failure to even try to run gives me pause. I’d be really worried if McCaffrey was still available, but without him Dallas can probably keep things under control. This will unfortunately leave us wondering if highly efficient ground play can be a challenge.

What I hope to see from the defense is that they are indeed able to get the ball from the other team, whether through punters or turnovers. If they can keep doing it, I’ll feel a lot better about this playoff prospect.

Terence: The Cowboys have a very good offensive coordinator in Kellen Moore, but the coaches decide the games and the players have to run. He will put his players in the positions to make plays and I agree, I have confidence in this attack especially once Michael Gallup comes back. As for the Panthers, they bring a different set of issues to the Cowboys outside of their defensive front on defense. For quarterback Sam Darnold, his game during his time with the New York Jets so far with the Panthers is like night and day. It’s not perfect, no, but he’s raised his game enough that the teams are noticing it. You add DJ Moore who can line up anywhere using his quickness out of the line to pick up yards. Then you have Darnold’s old friend in Robby Anderson who we last saw torch the Cowboys with five catches for 125 yards and one touchdown in the infamous Jets game. Darnold on his own threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns in this win over the Cowboys.

Let’s not forget Chuba Hubbard either. Just because he’s a substitute doesn’t mean he can’t get through that Cowboys defense. He is a versatile running back who can run the ball and make plays in the passing game when given the opportunity. In college, he averaged 5.9 yards per carry, his best season being in 2019 when he rushed for 2,094 yards and 21 touchdowns. Just because the name on the back of his jersey doesn’t tell McCaffery he’s a sloth. If Cowboys defenders take it lightly, they will suffer a rude awakening.

I’m with you on defense continuing to show that this is the new normal for them, but the Panthers will bring a different style of attacking that the Cowboys haven’t dealt with. They’ve faced quick receivers in Antonio Brown, good road runners in DeVonta Smith, and a quick and versatile running back Austin Ekeler, but they haven’t faced a team that has all three. The Panthers can give them that test.

To M: So I guess the real conclusion is that the Panthers seem to be a much better yardstick than the Eagles, who really played a terrible game and seemed to have a totally inept plan ahead. I can get started. We should feel a lot more confident about what the Cowboys have after Sunday.

Between you and me, I think it will always be a victory.

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