The Dallas Cowboys are seemingly back among the NFL’s elite, as they sit 6-2 on the season – the joint-second-best record in the NFC – aiding a growing belief that this could finally be the year this proud franchise’s 27-year wait for another Super Bowl title comes to an end.
It’s a dangerous assertion to make with Dallas, as there has been many a false dawn before during those barren years, including as most recently as last year when losing their Wild Card meeting with the San Francisco 49ers – seeing the clock run down on their season as, trailing by six, they failed to spike the ball in time to give them one final shot for the endzone and a game-winning TD.
There have been four further Wild Card exits over the past two-and-a-half decades, as well as a staggering six defeats in the divisional round of the playoffs since the Cowboys won a then-joint-record fifth Super Bowl title with victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers to close the 1995 season.
November 13, 2022, 9:15pm
That’s not to mention the years when Dallas failed to even make the playoffs. In fact, as recently as the 2020 season, the NFC East as a whole was derided, mockingly labelled the NFC ‘Least’ as its division winner, the Washington Football Team, made the playoffs with a losing 7-9 record. The Cowboys, sans their star quarterback Dak Prescott to a horrific ankle injury early in the season, missed out at 6-10.
However, those 2020 struggles helped pave the way for a most crucial piece to be added to their championship-winning puzzle, with superstar linebacker Micah Parsons snapped up with the 12th overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
His rookie year was special, but this his second campaign has been truly spectacular thus far and most are already crowning him as the undisputed Defensive Player of the Year with still half a season to be played.
The Cowboys top the league in defensive sacks, with Parsons leading the way with eight of them (to go with his rookie franchise record 13 from a year ago). They have allowed just 16.6 points per game this season (third in the NFL) and have given up 10 or fewer points on three separate occasions (tied for the most).
The offense has not quite flashed in the same way as the defense, but there are signs that they could be rediscovering some of the old magic that saw them top the league in both yardage and scoring in 2021 – averaging 407 yards per game to go with 31.2 points per contest.
Prescott was lost to injury again this season, but thankfully just for six weeks to a thumb injury, and while backup Cooper Rush performed superbly in his absence – winning four of five – the offense’s production has improved notably since Prescott’s return in Week Seven.
Their points per game has skyrocketed from 18.3 to 36.5, with total yardage also up from 300.8 to 380.6. The Cowboys were a bottom-five ranked offense through those opening weeks of the season, with Parsons and the defense deserving a great deal of gratitude (along with Rush) for keeping this title-seeking train on the tracks.
That offense could be about to improve even further still, if rumours stateside are to believed that Dallas are firmly in the race to sign free agent superstar receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
Beckham won the Super Bowl with the Los Angeles Rams last year but also injured himself in the game itself, tearing his left ACL in the first half – and has yet to sign for a new team. The Rams were initially seen as the favourites to recapture his signature, but have since suffered a disappointing 3-5 start to the season.
It now looks like the Cowboys are positioning themselves to strike, with owner Jerry Jones saying this week the team’s star logo “could look pretty good” on Beckham, while Parsons also pleaded for them to join forces in pursuit of a Super Bowl in Dallas.
“We can use him,” Parsons said. “I think he’s a great player. He’ll expand this offense. He can add real value to the team and help us do what we want to do.
“If the guy on the market is talking about he wants to play and he wants to win games, then me too. I want to win it just as bad as you do.
“If you want to win games, come win games over here. Help us get to that [Super] Bowl that you want. I want it.”
If OBJ were to indeed decide that Dallas was the destination for him, then helping his cause will be the attention the defense has to devote to the Cowboys’ run game – with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard serving as a fearsome one-two punch out of the backfield, both averaging 63.2 yards per game in 2022.
There have been growing calls for Pollard’s involvement in the offense to increase, with the 25-year-old returning a career-high 147 scrimmage yards and three touchdowns in the Week Eight win over the Chicago Bears that veteran Elliott missed due to a knee complaint.
Elliott is fit to go again this Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, and it is expected he will continue to split, if not hog, the majority of touches with Pollard. It’s a long season ahead for the Cowboys and his contribution will still be vital if they are to indeed go all the way.
As mentioned, lying in wait this weekend, looking to disrupt their so-far serene progress towards the playoffs are a team who are very much battling, desperate to drag themselves back into contention. The Packers have been one of the shocks of the season so far, losing five straight to sit 3-6 and on the precipice of irrelevance coming into this contest.
But, Dallas will be right to still be wary. Of those aforementioned false dawns, one of the biggest heartbreakers was a 34-31 divisional round defeat to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in 2016, despite owning possession of the No 1 seed in the NFC with a 13-3 record. It was also one of two postseason defeats to Green Bay for Dallas in the space of three seasons.
The Cowboys always seem to bring out the best in Rodgers. In nine career meetings (including playoffs), the Packers quarterback is 7-2, with a 101.8 passer rating – the fourth-highest by any QB against the Cowboys in NFL history.
Could it be that this is precisely the ‘get-right’ game that Green Bay require? Or are this Cowboys team different?
Is there finally a new dawn to believe in in Dallas?
Watch Dallas Cowboys @ Green Bay Packers on Sky Sports NFL as part of the Sunday night triple-header of live action which gets under way from 5pm; kick-off at Lambeau Field is at 9.25pm
This content was originally published here.