For 25 years, believing the Dallas Cowboys will go on an extended playoff run has required the strongest of hearts covered in a coat of Jack Daniels, and a layer of polyurethane.
If your heart is hearty enough to follow Ted Lasso and “Believe,” do so knowing that the Cowboys’ best shot at playing in February isn’t their quarterback having a big day but the opposing quarterback being harassed into having a bad one.
Dak Prescott is your $40 million quarterback and if the Cowboys are to have their first real playoff run — winning back-to-back postseason games — in a quarter century it will not be because of Dak-Zeke-Amari-CeeDee.
If you are brave enough to bet real money, or emotionally expose your heart to the concept the Cowboys can reach an NFC title game for the first time since Jan. 28, 1996, do so because of MP11-Tank-RG.
The Cowboys spent most of their high draft picks, and their big money, around Dak and that offense, but if you look at history they’re going places because of their relative on-the-cheap defense.
A team that can pressure an Aaron Rodgers doesn’t need an Aaron Rodgers to reach a Super Bowl.
In 2021, according to the good folks at ProFootballReference.com, the Dallas Cowboys’ defense ranked fourth in the NFL in pressuring a passer — a stat that’s a combination of sacks, quarterback hurries and quarterback knockdowns.
Look at a handful of previous Super Bowl winners and you will see they all put pressure on the quarterback.
Tom Brady receives most of the credit for leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl last season, but that defense was the third-best in making life hard for opposing quarterbacks.
In Tampa’s Super Bowl-win over the Kansas City Chiefs, they held Patrick Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill to nine points, mostly because Mahomes didn’t have time to breathe.
When the Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 in 2016, it wasn’t because quarterback Peyton Manning was throwing for 350 yards and four touchdowns.
Manning’s arm was shot by that point, but the Broncos had Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware coming off the edge and reduced NFL MVP, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, into a heaping pile of backup junk. The Panthers only scored 10 points that day.
When the New York Giants went 2-0 against the New England Patriots in the Super Bowls in 2008 and 2012, it was because their front seven routinely made Brady’s day difficult.
The Cowboys’ front seven has the potential to do that in the playoffs.
Besides the first-round selection of Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, a number of moves, both intentional and unintentional, have worked to the Cowboys’ benefit.
Start with Tank Lawrence’s broken foot.
Before Parsons turned out to be the second-coming of Lawrence Taylor, Tank was this team’s best pass rusher.
Tank suffering a broken foot in practice in mid-September was the best development for his 2021 season. Since returning in Week 13, he has three sacks and plays like a guy with low mileage.
And then there is Randy Gregory.
Team owner Jerry Jones has stood by many a player in the hopes of finding a bargain, and generating a return on minimal investment. He’s never stood by a player as long as he did Gregory for so little in return.
From 2015 to 2020, Gregory started only one game and played in just 38. He had more NFL season-long suspensions than NFL starts.
But this season, Gregory has six sacks, forced three fumbles, intercepted a pass, scored a touchdown and is playing like the guy who graded as a first-round talent coming out of Nebraska in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Throw in former Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong, Tarrell Basham, Neville Gallimore, Carlos Watkins and Osa Odighizuwa, and the Cowboys have one of the best rotations in the league.
The Cowboys’ NFL-best 26 interceptions don’t happen without those guys up front.
Many of cornerback Trevon Diggs’ NFL-best 11 interceptions came because Gregory, Tank or Parsons did their part to force a dumb throw.
If you are brave enough to “Believe,” don’t do it because of Dak ’n’ Friends. Do it because of the Cowboys’ “cheap” defense.