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3 Takeaways from Broncos' Dominant 30-16 Win Over Cowboys

What the heck just happened?

Playing on the road in the NFL is always hard, especially in the wake of the Von Miller trade. For the Denver Broncos, there was no rest for the weary as the team traveled to take on the 6-1 Dallas Cowboys.

Fans in Broncos County have all but given up on head coach Vic Fangio and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur due to a continual lack of consistency. But on Sunday, the Broncos came out of their corner swinging and delivered a few huge haymakers on the Texas-sized chin of the Cowboys. 

Fangio’s defense had multiple fourth-down stops, smothering Cowboys' QB Dak Prescott and OC Kellen Moore’s high-scoring offense. You never apologize for a win in the NFL but this victory stunned Broncos Country as much as it did the Cowboys themselves.

Call it a 'trap' game, a rallying cry, or just some good fortune, but for the first time in a long time, the Broncos made watching the game enjoyable. It was somewhat of a shock to see one of the purported best teams in the NFL get embarrassed by a dysfunctional and unassuming Denver squad. 

For almost the entire game, the Denver defense shut out Dallas before allowing two scoring drives in garbage time. What are fans to make of this win? And what did we learn about this team?

Let’s review my three takeaways from the biggest win of Fangio’s head-coaching career in Denver.

There Really is Life After Miller

I must admit that I’m biased when it comes to Jonathon Cooper. I’ve been buzzing about this young man since I evaluated him in person at the Senior Bowl in January. The Broncos drafted Cooper in the seventh round and he showed immediate flashes early in the season after recovering from a procedure to fix an irregular heartbeat condition prior to training camp.

Entering Week 9, Cooper had played in eight games but garnered his first start last week against Washington with Miller out with an ankle injury. The 6-foot-3, 254-pound rush linebacker had totaled 11 tackles (three solo) and three QB hits on 173 snaps this season.

Cooper made his second career start on Sunday and finished with two sacks in addition to three tackles. No, he’s not the next Von but he’s the next man up on this team as an edge defender.

Taking live reps and making mistakes is an essential part of any young players' learning development and there’s only so much that film study can provide. Through the trial-and-error learning curve of this rookie, the analysis reveals that the pro game isn’t too big for the 23-year-old.

Cooper has a powerful bull rush for a rookie and understands leverage and bend. Instead of making a habit of hand-fighting with offensive tackles, he prefers to get around them, utilizing his agility and explosive acceleration off the snap. No longer is Cooper the rookie backup to Miller.

No, this is an unrelenting pass rusher who has played with his hair on fire. It’s only a matter of time before the sacks get tallied up at home with the crowd yelling “Coooooopppp.”

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Backup O-Line Leads the Way

It was expected for left tackle Calvin Anderson to make his third career start on Sunday, but nobody knew that two other backups when need to enter the game due to injuries. Starting right tackle Bobby Massie and right guard Graham Glasgow both exited the game against the Cowboys, forcing rookie Quinn Meinerz onto the field, along with Cam Fleming.

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With defenders the likes of edge rusher Randy Gregory and linebacker Micah Parsons, I expected to see Bridgewater take a beating. But against all odds, Shurmur opted to run the ball with Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon, allowing the Denver O-line the opportunity to plow ahead for 191 total rushing yards.

Both backs made explosive plays for the offense that saw Gordon log 80 yards on 21 attempts with one touchdown while Williams ran for 111 yards — the first triple-digit rushing day of the rookie's young NFL career.

This is also a testament to the tutelage and preparation that’s implemented under O-line coach Mike Munchak and his assistant Chris Kuper. It’s not always about technique, hand placement, or pad level.

Sometimes, it’s more about the mentality of moving another man against his will with every lineman working together as a cohesive unit. In Dallas, many times there were gaping holes that allowed Gordon and Williams to punish the normally stingy unit of Cowboys' defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

It’s hard to say whether Shurmur’s rushing attack against the Cowboys will be sustainable in the upcoming weeks. Not because of injuries, but because of Shurmur's apparent unwillingness to commit to the ground vs. air.

After all, when it comes to the brief of NFL offensive trenchmen, it’s easier to forge ahead than play on skates going backward. 

Show Patrick the Money

The Broncos' offense hasn’t had a lot of success during Shurmur’s short tenure in Denver. While there’s plenty of young talent in the receiving corps and running back stable, there's a lot of uncertainty about the future of Tim Patrick.

Patrick is currently playing on a restricted free-agent tender that’ll pay him $3.384 million for the 2021 season. Entering Sunday's matchup with the Cowboys, the fourth-year receiver had totaled 30 receptions for 424 yards and three touchdowns.

It’s time for Broncos' GM George Paton to extend Patrick to a long-term deal. What’s Paton waiting for? By getting a deal done in-season, Denver would have a better chance of not overpaying and it could be a win for the front office. However, there’s the chance that Patrick believes he’ll command a lucrative payday in free agency and he might not want to remain on an irrelevant team with a high probability of more turnover at the coaching and quarterback level. 

Patrick had himself a day against the Cowboys in front of a rowdy Dallas crowd. In the second quarter, QB Teddy Bridgewater delivered a beautiful pass to Patrick for a 44-yard touchdown, exploiting the NFL's current leader in interceptions — Trevon Diggs. After that, Denver consistently leaned on Patrick to earn first downs all over the field and he was red-hot until some leg cramping occurred late in the third quarter. 

Patrick finished the day with four receptions for 88 yards and a score. Pay the man before the price tag becomes exorbitant.

Follow Luke on Twitter @LukePattersonLP.

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