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What we learned: Cowboys continue to show adaptability during Week 4 win

The Dallas Cowboys opened October by whooping the previously undefeated Carolina Panthers to answer some questions about the viability of the club in 2021.

DALLAS — If you’re counting at home, Sunday’s victory made it three straight wins for the Dallas Cowboys after beating the previously unmarred Carolina Panthers. Even if you’re not counting, the NFL is and the Cowboys are now 3-1. 

The string of victories puts Dallas atop the NFC East by a game over Washington and behind only the 4-0 Arizona Cardinals in the NFC.

Beating the Panthers was indeed a challenge, especially with their vaunted defense and considering the rest difference between the two squads by kickoff. Nevertheless, Dallas managed to pull away following an impeccable third quarter that taught us some things about the team. 

Here is what we learned after the 36-28 win over the Panthers:

Dak Prescott doesn’t need to air it out 

The Cowboys only needed to throw the ball 22 times to secure the win. After Week 1, where Prescott was asked to throw it 58 times, perhaps the thought was that he would be called upon to sling it around the field this season for Dallas to find success. That wasn’t the case against the Panthers. 

With the running game taking center stage to grind Carolina to dust, Prescott was efficient with his chances and threw four touchdowns on 14 completions. Things may change from week to week depending on the opponent, but we are quickly finding out that Prescott can be given any game plan and turn it into a winning formula. 

As the saying goes, quality over quantity.

Dan Quinn can adjust

Much has been made about the ability of offensive coordinator Kellen Moore to switch up his game plan based on the opponent, but the same can be said for Dallas’ new DC. 

Quinn’s strategy against the Panthers wasn’t working in the first half. There were too many soft coverages and not enough pressure being brought to Sam Darnold. Carolina’s offense was converting on long third downs and beating Quinn’s defense in the first 30 minutes.

That changed in the second half as Quinn stopped bringing three and four-man pressures and started to attack Darnold. It worked out as the Cowboys picked up three sacks, had two interceptions, and stopped allowing backbreaking third down conversions.

Quinn’s ability to adjust on the fly was a big part of the victory and is an attribute that bodes well for the squad going forward.

Connor McGovern is making an impact 

The Cowboys have shuffled through their offensive line twice early this season and haven’t had many issues. McGovern was part of the plan for Week 1 but hasn’t gotten a start since then.

However, the Cowboys are finding ways to get McGovern on the field by lining him up at FB and using him in jumbo packages. The third-year lineman out of Penn St. graded out well against the Panthers.

McGovern is excelling in any role the team needs and the Cowboys are succeeding in getting their best players on the field.

Rookie class is more than just Micah Parsons  

Parsons has been the standout freshman for the Cowboys – he was great again – but against the Panthers, the rookie class featured more than just the first-round linebacker. Third-round selections Osa Odighizuwa and Chauncey Golston also had good performances.

The rookie defensive linemen combined for a sack and four QB hits on Darnold. Odighizuwa has already been impressive in his opportunities, but it was Golston’s first game playing significant snaps and he responded with a very good outing.

Thus far, that makes three ‘hits’ in the draft for the Cowboys on defense. For a unit that needed help, the rookies came through once again in the Week 4 victory. 

Sometimes lucky is better than good 

With the game still very much in question, the Cowboys saw the ball bounce their way. In Dallas’ third possession, tight end Dalton Schultz almost fumbled but the call was overturned. Then, three plays later, Schultz put the ball on the ground again. The second time appeared to be a legit fumble, but the officials ruled that his forward progress was stopped. 

The Panthers would have had the ball in Cowboys territory and were likely to get points to take a lead early in the game if the officials weren’t quick to call Schultz down.

Sometimes winning games requires luck. It’s true that you often make your own luck in the NFL but if the Cowboys can have more good fortune than bad, they’ll win more games. Luck was on their side versus the Panthers.

What are the lessons that you would like to see the Cowboys learn in October? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.