3 Takeaways from Cowboys' Week 5 Win vs. Rams
There will be no quarterback controversy in Dallas once Cowboys starter Dak Prescott is back to 100 percent. However, Dallas hasn't lost since Prescott suffered a thumb injury in Week 1.
Cooper Rush has been a terrific placeholder, and Dallas has gone 4-0 with him at the helm. Sunday's win over the Los Angeles Rams, though, was the Cowboys' most impressive win of the year so far.
Rush played yet another solid game, though this win was dictated by the Cowboys defense and ground game. Dallas dominated the defending Super Bowl champs, especially in the second half, in a game that announced Dallas as one of the top contenders in the NFC.
The Cowboys will now have an opportunity to claim the NFC East lead next week against the 5-0 Philadelphia Eagles. For now, they should be thrilled to be sitting at 4-1.
Here are our biggest takeaways from Dallas' 22-10 victory over Los Angeles.
Dallas Might Have a Championship-Caliber Defense
To be fair, the Rams offense hasn't looked like a Super Bowl-caliber unit often this season. Los Angeles has struggled to run the ball and to identify a capable No. 2 receiver opposite Cooper Kupp.
Coming into this game, L.A. ranked just 28th in total offense and 29th in scoring.
Still, Dallas' performance in the second half was impressive. The Cowboys didn't allow a single point and forced two turnovers on the Rams' final two drives. Over the final two quarters, the Rams offense went: punt, missed field goal, punt, interception, fumble.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, who had 199 yards before halftime, had only 109 passing yards after the break.
In all, the Cowboys allowed only 14 first downs (two by penalty) and a six-of-17 conversion rate on third down. This wasn't a one-off performance against a struggling offense either.
Through the first month of the season, Dallas ranked sixth in yards allowed and third in points allowed. Littered with difference-makers like Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, Trevon Diggs and Dorance Armstrong Jr., the Dallas defense is a borderline elite unit.
If the Cowboys can clean up their one weakness—run defense—they might just have a championship-caliber defense on their hands. Coming into Sunday, the Cowboys ranked 27th in rushing yards allowed and 24th in yards per attempt allowed (5.0).
The Rams (2.5 yards per carry) didn't do much to test the Cowboys run defense. Next week, the Eagles undoubtedly will.
Tony Pollard Has Become Dallas' Most Dangerous Back
The sun hasn't set on Ezekiel Elliott's time as a Cowboys standout. However, the three-time Pro Bowler isn't the same explosive playmaker he once was. The 27-year-old has become more of a grinder, while Tony Pollard has emerged as the Cowboys' home run hitter.
Pollard showed this once again Sunday, rallying 86 yards on only eight carries—including one for a 57-yard score. Elliott was effective in his role, carrying 22 times for 78 yards, but he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry.
Sunday's game followed a similar formula to what we've seen all season. Elliott led the team in carries (59) through the first four weeks but averaged 3.8 yards per carry with a long of 27 yards. Pollard saw less ground work (36 carries) but averaged 4.5 yards per carry.
It's clear that Pollard and Elliott work well as a tandem, as they combined for 164 rushing yards against the Rams and complemented each other well.
"Zeke and TP did what we know they can do," Prescott said after the win, per the team's official website.
It's also clear that the younger (25) and less heavily utilized Pollard is the more eruptive runner. Don't be surprised if Pollard's role continues to grow as the season wears on.
The Cowboys Will Be Better with Dak Prescott Under Center
The Cowboys have been rolling without Prescott, but this doesn't mean that they can't be even better upon his return. Rush deserves a lot of credit for playing mostly mistake-free game management. However, he doesn't spark the passing offense the same way that Prescott can.
On Sunday, for example, Rush finished 10-of-16 for 102 yards with no touchdowns and no turnovers—though he did fumble twice.
Prescott finished last season with 4,449 passing yards, 37 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Dallas ranked second in passing yards and first in scoring. With Rush playing the bulk of this season, the Cowboys rank 23rd in passing and 27th in scoring.
With Prescott in the fold, Dallas will have a balanced offense that will be difficult to contain. The good news is that he should be back sooner than later.
"[Franchise owner Jerry Jones] said Dak Prescott will do a lot of throwing this week. Doesn't know if he will play against Eagles yet," Clarence Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tweeted after Sunday's win.
The Cowboys don't need to hurry Prescott onto the field before he's ready because of Rush. However, Rush's good-enough-but-not-great performance against the Rams shows exactly why Dallas will be thrilled to welcome Prescott back once he's at 100 percent.