It’s just Week 2. At the time of this writing, the Packers and Lions have yet to even play their second game of the 2021 season. But Cowboys fans may want to take a moment to celebrate the rarity of a feat that has seemed- in very recent years, at least- too fantastic to imagine.
The Dallas Cowboys lead the league in total takeaways. They top the rankings list for best turnover differential, too.
That is not a typo.
With a pair of interceptions Sunday off Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, the Dallas defense is up to six takeaways over the first two weeks of action. None was bigger in the 20-17 win than Damontae Kazee’s pick in the end zone as the third quarter concluded, turning Los Angeles away with nothing to show for an 11-play drive in a tie ballgame.
“See ball, get ball,” Kazee explained of the moment in his postgame comments. “That’s me. Just see it, go get it.”
The safety nearly tried to make a return out of the end zone, but thought better of it, with Chargers receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams closing in fast.
“I wanted to take it out. But I realized who was in front of me. I didn’t want to take any chances, putting the ball on the five-yard line instead of the 20-yard line, taking a touchback. It was a hell of a play. Got down and gave the offense another opportunity.”
Damontae Kazee with the KEY interceptionpic.twitter.com/ZH9SMzeQ7Y
— Tom Downey (@WhatGoingDowney) September 19, 2021
Ten plays later, the Cowboys turned that opportunity into a critical field goal to take the lead.
“That’s probably the play of the game,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said of the well-timed pick. It was the second straight game in which the Cowboys intercepted a pass in their own end zone.
“Those, to me, are worth double,” linebacker Leighton Vander Esch offered. “Those are crucial turnovers for us. They’re huge point-savers. Heck of a job by those guys. It feels so good for us as backers, knowing that we have guys like that playing behind us and to the side of us, just the ballhawks they are. We almost had another one, too… Turnovers are coming, man.”
That would make good on what has been a definite point of focus for Dan Quinn’s defense this offseason. The Cowboys finished the 2020 season with a respectable 23 takeaways, but ended the year minus-3 in turnover differential.
Two games into 2021, they’re plus-four.
“We emphasize it every day: ball, ball, ball,” said linebacker-turned-defensive-end Micah Parsons.
“I’m working on my hands every day,” added cornerback Trevon Diggs, who recorded his second interception in as many games with a pick to end the Chargers’ first possession. “Trying to be around the ball as much as I can, get my hands on as many balls as I can, and make sure I catch it.”
Despite the small sample size of games, the takeaways are reason for optimism regarding the Dallas defense. After a historically bad 2020 for the unit, the Cowboys on that side of the ball this year are eager to reinvent the defense’s reputation.
“We haven’t scratched the surface on what we can do,” safety Jayron Kearse elaborated. “We just come out and play every week. We know the odds are against us. Everybody’s counting us out on that back end. We’re just coming out every week to do our job and prove everybody wrong. The only people that believe in us are in that locker room… Every week we’re going to be turnover-driven.”
Bunches of takeaways are great, and certainly a welcome change from Dallas defenses past. But the 2021 unit won’t stop there with finding room for improvement.
“We are going to look at the interceptions,” Kazee said, “but we’ve still got a lot of stuff to critique. Still too many passing yards out there.”
The veteran safety is right; the Cowboys are second-worst in that category so far this season. Call it another list to work their way to the top of.