The Dallas Cowboys are synonymous with hype. It doesn’t matter how much substance there is beneath the star power, the so-called “America’s Team” generate headlines in spite of their results on the field.
Billionaire owner Jerry Jones will often beat his chest after victories on a relentless tour of radio talk shows during the week, making a compelling case for a first Super Bowl title in 26 years.
The Cowboys’ rivals privately look on with envy at the lopsided, and perhaps unwarranted, amount of exposure and celebration they are afforded.
But heading into week six of the regular season with a 4-1 record that has them top of the NFC East division, it is peculiar how subdued the reaction has been away from Dallas.
Admittedly in a rich era, the NFL can produce a number of mouth-watering stories each week, though Dallas has already toppled one of the most hyped teams this season: the exhilarating Los Angeles Chargers and their formidable young quarterback Justin Herbert.
So while some dismiss the possible rise of a sleeping giant, the ingredients are there for Dallas to mount a “scary” charge towards the play-offs, according to former Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
“Dallas is getting back to winning ways and it’s scary for the NFC because they’re not being talked about much,” Jones-Drew, the 2011 rushing leader, says ahead of his former team’s game against the Miami Dolphins at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday. “And they’re starting to show they can blow teams out now too.
“They beat the Panthers really badly and put them on a downward spiral [leading to a 21-18 home loss to the Philadelphia Eagles].
“It’s going to be nervous playing the Dallas Cowboys over the next couple of months.”
Dallas has always been able to sprinkle stardust on offense and Dak Prescott spectacularly rebounding from his brutal ankle injury, which threatened to dash a blossoming career, is certainly an integral part to this resurgence.
Indeed, Prescott has tossed 13 touchdowns with three interceptions, placing him just behind Russell Wilson in the entire league for passer rating, though the Seahawks quarterback will miss the next month at least due to a broken finger.
The poise of Prescott has certainly justified the staggering $160m (£116m) contract, which was reluctantly slid across the table after years of nauseating negotiations.
Perhaps the most promising aspect for head coach Mike McCarthy has been the renaissance of Ezekiel Elliott, who has lauded a more dedicated approach in the off-season after what he labelled a “s*** show” last season. That heralded a first sub-1,000 yard season on the ground from a complete season, at just 4.0 yards per clip, which has already spiked to a career-high of 5.3 through five games so far.
If Dallas has its Batman back in the run game, then Robin has emerged in the shape of Tony Pollard, who is beautifully complementing Elliott with a league-high 6.4 yard per carry.
Prescott remains the star, but the rushing game is forcing opponents to pick their poison in this well-oiled machine. It’s powered by the towering presence of offensive linemen Tyron Smith and Zack Martin, who have helped assemble a fortress in front of Prescott.
“We try to reinvent the wheel,” Jones-Drew adds while discussing an offense that is on pace to produce multiple 1,000-yard plus backs and receivers for the first time in the league’s history in the shape of Elliott, Pollard, Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb.
“Football is always going to be about running the ball and being physical, because it brings a physical nature. Defences tackle and put them on their heels, not on their toes where they can be aggressive.
“Then it’s about being efficient. This new age of offensive coordinators said they can throw it sideways and it’s like the running game. It’s not. The running game is about running going forward, your guys are running into each other and trying to break the will of the defence.
“Kellen Moore, a young offensive coordinator, is actually one of the first to go back to what it should be, like when Dallas was 13-3 and winning.
“They were running the ball and Dak was awesome. They did a self-scout, they figured out if they could go out there and get back to that. The Cowboys are running it well, Dak will throw it for like 200 to 250 yards per game, they are rushing for almost 200 yards per game and they’re getting after it.
“It’s exciting. Ezekiel had a bad year last year and decided to get back into shape. I remember going to see him in training camp, he looked much more slim, cut up, he was ready to get back to the player he was.
“It’s hard to get that speed back, but you see the vision, explosiveness, the power. That’s what they wanted from him. That’s why they drafted him fourth overall, because of those attributes, and you’re seeing that come back.
He’s playing at a high level. Dallas is going under the radar.”
While Prescott and co will eventually seize most of the headlines and accolades, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is shining what had become a faded reputation after being fired as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.
The defence has been boosted by dynamite in the shape of rookie linebacker and 12th overall draft pick Micah Parsons, a serendipitous gift after initially targeting the draft’s top two cornerbacks. The electricity running through Parsons has enabled cornerback Trevon Diggs to thrive in just his second year, swiping six takeaways through five games to set sights on the legendary Dick “Night Train” Lane and his 69-year record of 14 interceptions in 1952 for the Los Angeles Rams.
This is merely the start, but McCarthy’s time management provides a nagging doubt that cannot be banished until the bitter cold weeks of December, a point widely accepted as the halfway stage of the campaign much like a marathoner arriving at mile 20.
Up next is a trip to Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots on Sunday, hardly a juggernaut yet given their 2-3 record this season, meaning anything less than a comfortable win will provide ammunition for Dallas’ most ardent critics.
The Cowboys’ season to date provides a glimmer into the irresistible potential this group has had for years. With each week that potential is gradually becoming reality.
Watch Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Miami Dolphins at the NFL London Games live from Tottenham Hotspur Stadium this Sunday, 17th October on BBC Two, BBC iPlayer and NFL Game Pass from 2PM, listen on Talksport and catch highlights on Sky Sports NFL.
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