If the Dallas Cowboys do anything of note this season, it will be because of the defense. It's really that simple.
Oh, you will hear broadcasters swoon about offensive coordinator Kellen Moore every week, and so much hype and attention will go the array of prominent skill players on the roster. But don't get it twisted. Dak Prescott ain't winning any MVP awards, Zeke Elliott is beat up, and all of those receivers are nice, but it was the defense that opened and closed a big win over a surging Washington team on the road, and it is the big-play defense that will have to take the lead in the postseason.
This win at Washington puts Dallas (9-4) in great position to win the NFC East … which everyone has pretty much assumed since October, anyway. But this offense is a long way from humming along at full stream and gutting opposing teams, they still couldn't put away WFT despite being given points and great field position from the defense, and the guys making the most impactful plays are on Dan Quinn's side of the ball.
The Cowboys getting DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory back – to go with rookie Micah Parsons continuing his defensive-MVP caliber season – is more important than either starting receiver coming back. It's a ridiculous late boost to a unit that was already shining despite not having them, and the degree of pass-rush bite the Cowboys now possess is the single best attribute of this football team.
The defense bailed out the offense early, after Prescott threw his first pick, intercepting Taylor Heinecke to hand the offense the ball at the 41 (they knocked Heinecke out of the game and got to backup Kyle Allen late). The defense later scored a touchdown after a Parsons strip sack was returned for a score, and with the offense limited to almost all field goals, the defense bowed up again after a Prescott pick-six made it a one-score game. That's when they hit Allen again, forcing a controversial fumble that saved the day.
It's shocking this was even a game. Dallas went up early. The Cowboys limited WFT to just 224 yards. Yeah, in the ballgame. Dallas had nine QB hits, with three players – Parsons, Lawrence and Gregory – registering two apiece. Parsons now has 9.5 sacks in his last six games, tying the record for any six-game stretch by a rookie. They recovered three fumbles and had a pick. And still they barely survived this game.
Mike McCarthy looked fairly dumbfounded as the fourth quarter unfolded. His offense was struggling for signs of life. It was the other side of the ball that led them. That is their energy source right now. That's the ascending group. That's the cause for hope that Dallas' grandiose dreams have any chance of coming true.
Lawrence woes magnify Jags' coaching failures
For those who have been following this space, yet another absolutely garbage first-half for the Jaguars offense. And, well, like most of the season it was a garbage performance for the entire game, too, in a 20-0 shutout. But the abject failure to construct anything for Trevor Lawrence before garbage time – before these games are out of reach – remains staggeringly shocking.
Lawrence does not have a first-half touchdown pass since Week 6, in London. The Jaguars have a total of 28 first half points scored in their last seven games. Yes, go back and do the math. That's four points per first half over a seven-game sample size, with two total rushing TDs in that span and no passing touchdowns. That is unfathomable.
Lawrence in the first half of his last seven games is 57-for-96 for 501 yards (5.22 per pass!) with no touchdowns and two picks for a rating of 64.63. His regression intensified in the second half against the Titans, as he threw four interceptions. This is a complete disaster and a football atrocity.
Only owner Shad Khan knows how much longer it goes on, but at 2-11, amid more Meyer drama and another five-game losing streak, the players and most coaches would embrace a change.
Raiders should smarten up, start head coach search now
Raiders owner Mark Davis should be smart about where his team stands and get a jump on his head coaching search. I know he didn't want to lose Jon Gruden, but he's not walking through that door and a total reboot is in order. Maybe it includes Derek Carr, maybe it doesn't. But it won't be easy.
The unmasking by the Chiefs Sunday afternoon should sting, and all of those blown first-round draft picks have put them in a huge hole. With new rules in place to allow teams to interview current coaches on other staffs in-season, Davis would be silly not to partake. I know he's wanted to put this off, but might as well use being the only team currently with an interim head coach to your potential benefit and starting doing the dirty work of identifying which coach and GM can try to get you where you hoped Gruden would take you. What happened at Arrowhead was not professional grade. Seven penalties for 75 yards in the first half alone, trailing 35-3, is never where you want to be.
More insider notes from Week 14
- The Ravens offense didn't look markedly different with backup Tyler Huntley replacing injured Lamar Jackson, and him playing a few more weeks wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Remains to be seen when Jackson is back, but the former MVP's funk has been deep. He's actually the only QB in the NFL with a worse first-half QB rating than Lawrence since Week 7 (55.17, with one TD and five picks). Baltimore tried to go with more tempo and incorporate more horizontal runs and passes during his brief stint Sunday, to get Jackson going, but he left after a few series with the injury. The offense expanded and the receivers were more involved in the second half, FWIW …
- The Browns survived, but you have to have serious reservations about that team doing damage in January. Uber-conservative approach – and they may have blown that game had the Ravens not tried a two-point conversion that wasn't necessary. The offense failed to score in the second half despite a big lead and a Baltimore defense without most key players, Baker Mayfield was shaky, and color me a skeptic that either of these teams has a real playoff run in them, with attrition part of the problem …
- Call me crazy, but I think the Saints could still have a run in them. Taysom Hill is limited but has at least settled down the quarterback play. They are getting healthier (finally). The defense is legit. Stay tuned …
- The Texans fought pretty hard on a day I thought they might not show up, but not many wins in that group …
- Another week with a ton of questionable calls, or outright blown calls. It's a bit of a crisis and I can't help but wonder what the playoffs hold when everything gets magnified …
- If you haven't seen the ridiculous bomb TD Justin Herbert threw at the end of the first half against the Giants, please do yourself a favor and find it.