Cooper Rush will get the headlines.
But this Dallas Cowboys team and Rush’s undefeated record as the Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback is powered by a defense that is turning into Doomsday.
Rush is now 5-0 all-time as a starting quarterback, leading the team to a 4-0 record this season in place of the injured Dak Prescott. He became the 14th quarterback in NFL history to win his first five starts
But it was the Cowboys’ harassing pass rush that led to Sunday’s 22-10 victory against the defending Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Rams.
It marked the fourth five straight games to start the season the Cowboys (4-1) allowed just one touchdown, as they streaked to four straight victories after a season opening loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It’s the first time since 1972 that the Cowboys have held their first five opponents under 20 points.
The defense recorded five sacks, opening the game with a sack and forced fumble by defensive end Dorance Armstrong that was returned 19 yards for a touchdown by defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.
Linebacker Micah Parsons recorded his team-leading fifth and sixth sacks of the season.
Safety Malik Hooker ended the Rams comeback hopes with a fourth quarter interception.
Rams quarterback Matt Stafford passed for 308 yards but 129 came on just two plays, a 75-yard touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp and a 54-yard pass to Tutu Atwell.
“Defensively, I thought we were outstanding and consistent in all five games,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “They are definitely the straw that is stirring this drink.”
The victory sets up a showdown for first place in the NFC East at the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles (5-0) next Sunday.
And it could also feature the return of Prescott, who is expected to start throwing this week after missing the last four games with a fractured thumb.
Clarence Hill’s 5 things from the Dallas Cowboys 22-10 win vs. the Los Angeles Rams:
Rush and passing game are just enough
It wasn’t a banner day for Cowboys quarterback Cooper Rush but he did just enough to lead the Cowboys to victory again.
Rush passed for just 102 yards on 10 of 16 passing
The Cowboys again struggled on third down, especially in the first half when they were 1 for 5. Rush had 49 passing yards in the first half.
The Cowboys were just 5 of 15 on third down for the game.
Rush was also hurt by third-down drops by CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup.
He didn’t make any mistakes that cost the Cowboys to lose the game in what may be his last game as the Cowboys starter.
And for the third straight game, Rush led the Cowboys on a touchdown drive to take the lead after falling behind.
Tyler Smith survives baptism by Aaron Donald
We knew this day was coming for Cowboys rookie left tackle Tyler Smith. We just didn’t know when.
The first-round pick and Fort Worth native had been the league’s best rookie offensive lineman through the first four games of the season, allowing just one sack.
But that was before Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams, who schemed all-pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald against him at the end of long passing situations. Smith gave up two sacks in the first half when Donald beat him off the edge, including a forced fumble. He was also called for holding.
Blame should also go to the Cowboys coaching staff who left Smith one-on-one with a player regarded as the best defensive player in the league.
But Smith didn’t give in. Donald did not get a sack in the second half and he was a key part of a rushing attack that totaled 163 yards on 34 carries.
Tony Pollard provides the big play, run game strong
Debates continue to rage over how the Cowboys are using Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard.
Their split in carries continues to be decidedly in favor of Elliott, even though both are on the field together more than ever.
The focus of the Cowboys to use both of them while getting the most out of Elliott and taking advantage of Pollard’s explosiveness.
It’s hard to argue with later as the Cowboys are using them. Pollard put the Cowboys ahead in the second quarter with a 57-yard touchdown run. He broke four tackles with the second-longest scoring run of his career.
It’s his fifth career TD run of 40 or more yards and his third play of 46 or more yards this season.
He had a 46-yard catch and a 46-yard run for a score.
Pollard had eight carries for 86 yards in the game.
And Elliot had 22 carries for 78 yards.
And it was Pollard and Elliott who powered the Cowboys to a 36-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, putting them up 22-10 with 5:32 left.
Cowboys survive shaky special teams
Save for a Dorance Armstrong blocked punt that led to a field goal, one of three by kicker Brett Maher, it wasn’t a banner day for the Cowboys special teams.
Deep snapper Matt Overton, who was signed to the active roster on Sunday to replace the injured Jake McQuaide, snapped the ball too early on the team’s first extra point, hitting hold/punter Bryan Anger in the head.
The punt return unit was surprised by a fake field goal from the Rams on fourth-and-5 from their own 25 late in the second quarter. Rams punter Riley Dixon hit Jake Gervase for a 12-yard gain.
The Cowboys defense saved them, forcing a punt.
And Anger did not have a great day punting. The worst was a 35-yard effort that led to a 22-yard return from Brandon Powell, giving the Rams the ball at the 29-yard line.
The Cowboys defense, however, came to the rescue again, as the Rams had to settle for a missed 51-yard field goal after being pushed back by a holding call.
Dorance Armstrong proves worth Randy Gregory loss
The main player who benefited from the Cowboys decision to let defensive end Randy Gregory sign with the Denver Broncos in free agency is defensive end Dorance Armstrong.
The Cowboys offered Gregory a five-year, $70 million deal. When he balked at the language in the contract, the team pivoted and signed Armstrong to a two-year, $12 million deal. They also signed Dante Fowler and Leighton Vander Esch.
Armstrong showed that the Cowboys made the right decision and put the exclamation point on it Sunday with a sack and forced fumble on the opening drive of the game, resulting in a 19-yard fumble return for a touchdown by defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.
It was the team’s first defensive score of the season after recording six on defense in 2021.
Armstrong’s blocked punt and 15-yard return on the ensuing series set up a 33-yard field goal from Brett Maher and a 9-0 Cowboys lead.
The Cowboys had five sacks on the day, led by Micah Parsons, who had two and a strip sack in the fourth quarter.
The Cowboys now have 20 sacks on the season.
This marks the first time since 1987 that Dallas has recorded at least 20.0 sacks through the first five games
of a season and it ties the third highest five-game total in franchise history.
This story was originally published October 9, 2022 6:31 PM.