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Keeping the Cowboys Close

The Dallas Cowboys need to tread water until Dak Prescott returns from injury. The keys will be their defense and backup QB Cooper Rush.

They say everything is bigger in Texas… and that includes the dramatics.

Week 1 was a colossal disaster for the Dallas Cowboys. Not only did they lose 19-3 to the Buccaneers, but starting QB Dak Prescott fractured his thumb, sidelining him for 4-6 weeks.

It would’ve been easy to write Dallas off after game one.

However, after an impressive Week 2 victory over the Bengals, there’s reason for Dallas fans to be optimistic. And with three of the Cowboys’ next four games against NFC East rivals, they just need to weather the storm.

How will they do it? Look no further than their defense and backup QB Cooper Rush.

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The Cowboys’ Defense

The Cowboys’ defense was highly touted for a reason. Despite allocating only $70.5 million toward their defense (sixth-lowest in the NFL), the unit was an offensive coordinator’s nightmare in 2021, finishing with the most interceptions (26) and third-lowest completion percentage allowed (59.5%).

They’ve carried the momentum into the 2022 season.

Through two weeks, Dallas has the second-most sacks in the NFL (8), and has allowed only two touchdowns against two of the top-scoring offenses from last year. Two of its own draft picks from 2020 and 2021 are the teams’ anchors on this side of the ball — and they have them on a bargain.

Micah Parsons (ILB): 4 years, $17 million ($4.3M AAV)

The 23-year-old notched two sacks, five quarterback hits, and four total tackles in the Week 2 win, quickly bolstering himself as one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. He leads the league in sacks (4) and tackles for loss (4), while recording the most sacks in NFL history through a player’s first 18 games.

The ‘Boys ended up sacking Joe Burrow six times, and if you watched the game then you saw how Parsons quite literally impacted every play. He’s on pace to record 34 sacks this year — T.J. Watt and Michael Strahan (22.5) have the most in a single season.

Trevon Diggs (CB): 4 years, $6.3 million ($1.6M AAV)

Covering his brother Stefon while they were growing up was probably the best development strategy for the star cornerback. Diggs, 23, snagged 11 picks in 2021 — the most in 40 years (and tied the Cowboys’ record). He ran two of those 11 interceptions back for TDs (first in the NFL) and 142 yards (first).

Diggs is now the go-to guy defending the opposing teams’ WR1. Against Cincy, he held Ja’Marr Chase to just 14 yards on two catches. He essentially saved the game when he wrapped up Tyler Boyd on 3rd and 3 with 1:09 left in a tie game. That got the offense back on the field and led to a game-winning FG from Brett Maher.

Cooper Rush

2 years, $1.96 million (UFA 2023)

It’s an uneasy feeling on offense because the Cowboys have only scored two offensive TDs this season, further emphasizing just how good the defense has really been. It’s uneasy knowing that Cooper Rush is the fourth quarterback to start in place of Prescott since 2020.

But maybe — just maybe — Rush is the guy that can get the job done until Dak is good to go.

“He exceeded my expectations. He did. No reason why he couldn’t, but he did exceed my expectations,” owner Jerry Jones said of Rush after the game. “I’m telling you, this performance out here by Rush sure takes a lot of the angst out of [Dak’s injury].”

We aren’t getting ahead of ourselves. The Cowboys have a ton of work to do, specifically on this side of the ball. After all, only two wide receivers had a catch in the Week 2 win.

But at the very least, Rush looked competent enough to get the job done, the defense is strong as ever, and they have a solid and unpredictable backfield with Ezekiel Elliot (15 rush, 53 yards) and Tony Pollard (9 rush, 43 yards, 1 TD).

The defense is probably the only reassuring part amid this Dak debacle. Now with the NFC East seemingly better than last year, Rush might be good enough to hold it down. It’s still too early to tell.

But everything they do relies so heavily on the defense — for better or worse. They’ll face the Giants (2-0), Commanders (1-1), Rams (1-1), and Eagles (1-0) over the next four weeks.

Win two of those and they should feel somewhat better about their chances this season. Speaking of which…

Betting Odds

All odds via FanDuel Sportsbook.

  • O/U Win Total: 8.5
  • Win NFC East: +500
  • Make Playoffs: Yes (+150) | No (-170)
  • Win Super Bowl: +4500
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