The Cowboys scored 17 points. They were down to three defensive backs, with others either inactive or injured. The Broncos turned the ball over twice. Von Miller had too many offsides penalties.
And, yeah, that’s about all the excuses Cowboys fans can make to cover up the fact that the Denver Broncos just flat out kicked the Cowboys’ butts.
Sure, it wasn’t a perfect game for the Broncos and we can point to a few concerns or deficiencies. But let’s face the facts: The Broncos faced one of the best teams in the NFL and never let that team dictate the pace.
It’s still early in the season, but one thing is certain: This Broncos team is going to make things tough for every opponent on the schedule. Anyone who was quick to write off the Broncos before the season began needs to rethink that assessment.
This wasn’t a pushover the Broncos took to the woodshed. This was a legitimate playoff contender.
Let’s review what we know from today’s game.
1. It’s clear that defensive coordinator Joe Woods is doing everything he can to silence doubters. Sure, Wade Phillips is one of the best defensive coordinators of all time. But there are always going to be others who come along and prove they can do a great job of running a defense, too. So far, Woods is proving he can prepare and game plan well.
2. Those of you who were worried about the run defense can start believing in Bill Kollar and the players he coaches. The Broncos didn’t hold just any old running back to eight yards on nine carries — they did it to arguably the best running back in the NFL, Ezekiel Elliott. Even with just five defensive linemen active, Kollar’s men never let Elliott get going.
3. Speaking of Kollar, looks like he was right about Adam Gotsis. That dude was in on several of those run stops — well, what few the Cowboys attempted, anyway.
4. Domata Peko isn’t going to wow you with eye-popping stats, but the passion he brings is what makes him a valued member of this defensive line. And I imagine he’s sharing a lot of knowledge with those young linemen in the rotation. Remember, talent is great, but knowledge can be just as powerful.
5. Shaquil Barrett is going to make things difficult for the Broncos when it comes time for him to get a new contract. He’s showing he deserves to be a starter and paid like one. As I said before the season, it’s going to be a tough choice between Barrett and Shane Ray, because if both show they are worthy starters and to be paid like starters, neither is going to accept just being a rotational guy for the long term.
6. You could tell Von Miller was getting anxious to get to Dak Prescott with all the offsides penalties he drew. Even after he got two sacks, he still got too antsy. I don’t like the penalties, but I’ll definitely take the passion and fire Miller plays with.
7. Justin Simmons held his own against Jason Witten, who remains one of the best tight ends in the game. I will say, though, that Joe Buck and Troy Aikman need to be honest when Witten drops a pass, because that’s exactly what happened on that would-be touchdown. And it’s OK to admit that about Witten — as Von Miller showed, even the best players make mistakes.
8. Trevor Siemian does need to clean up a few areas of his game — he missed a couple of wide open guys and his interception was a clear miscommunication between him and Demaryius Thomas. But we are watching him grow and get better as a quarterback. It’s a wonderful thing to see a quarterback develop and, especially, to watch him put some zip onto the ball and fire off passes right where the receivers need them to be.
9. It’s clear how much the Broncos missed CJ Anderson last season — and it’s also clear his absence is a big reason the Broncos missed the playoffs last year. Amazing how many times he turned what looked like short gains into long ones, often leading to first downs.
10. It’s also clear how much the Broncos missed Andy Janovich last season — there’s another reason the Broncos missed the playoffs last year. Remember, sometimes it’s the absence of the most overlooked players who are the difference between going to the playoffs and missing them.
11. Fingers crossed for Garett Bolles but it doesn’t sound like he’ll be back any time soon. Tough to see him get injured when he was doing a lot of good things. The Broncos may want to find out if Branden Albert wants to come out of retirement and play for a contender — whether or not the Jaguars hold his rights isn’t clear. The last reports I read was the Jags released him — if so, a call to his agent wouldn’t hurt. But if they still hold his rights, it’s worth talking to the Jags to see what might be worked out, assuming Albert wants to play.
12. While Menelik Watson was responsible for the sack that led to the fumble and the Cowboys’ first touchdown, let’s be fair: Watson played much better this week. He won more matchups in pass protection than he lost and his run blocking was a vast improvement from last week. As long as he keeps progressing and limits his mistakes, that’s all you can ask.
13. The tight ends didn’t catch as many passes today, but they did their job for the most part in blocking — though I don’t know why AJ Derby thought he could get away with that block in the back on Sean Lee.
14. You could tell how fired up Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas were today. Sanders was active this week after being quiet last week, while Thomas — one mistake or two aside — was a steady performer.
15. Cody Latimer’s fumbled kick return wasn’t a good thing, but everything else he did… dare I say he might have a future with the Broncos in some capacity?
16. The only way to close out this Gut Reaction is with the icing on the cake: Aqib Talib’s 103-yard pick six. That’s the exclamation point to end all exclamation points.