The Dallas Cowboys bounced back from their embarrassing loss to Arizona last week with another McCarthy-style blowout. The Cowboys defeated the New England Patriots 38-3 following three turnovers and two defensive scores. Along with the defensive scoop-and-score by a veteran, another Dallas Cowboy scored his first touchdown just four weeks into his career.
Both linebacker Leighton Vander-Esch and fullback Hunter Luepke scored their first NFL touchdowns on Sunday afternoon. The rookie and the veteran’s pair of touchdowns gave Dallas’ defense and offense a new life, and new dimension. Here is how a first career touchdown will boost their confidence and performance.
Pair of Cowboys Earn First Touchdown in Suffocating Win vs. Patriots
LB Leighton Vander-Esch
Stand up, Cowboys fans. September is over, and this one could not have come at a better time. Leighton Vander-Esch struggled against the run and in pass coverage against Arizona. The Cardinals had Dallas’ linebacker core looking nervous. The same could not be said about Sunday’s matchup with New England. Vander-Esch performed well against the Patriots, recording his season-high seven tackles, one fumble recovery, and one touchdown.
Vander-Esch’s first NFL touchdown came after edge defender Dante Fowler punched the ball out of quarterback Mac Jones’ hands. While he only returned the ball eleven yards for a touchdown, the feat was nonetheless impressive and a first for Leighton Vander-Esch. He played a much better game against New England, as the run game in his direction was nearly non-existent.
“It was an awesome moment, surreal for me. I’m just super thankful,” said Vander-Esch.
Vander-Esch should carry the confidence that comes with his first NFL score into the following weeks. While Dallas has tall orders stopping in the coming weeks, the once trade-candidate Pro Bowl linebacker saw great improvement and should use this game as fuel to his fire. Look for Vander-Esch to be the one wrapping up running back Christian McCaffrey next week.
FB Hunter Luepke
It is a happy day in Texas, as an undrafted fullback scored his first NFL touchdown for the Dallas Cowboys. Fullback Hunter Luepke’s name was called for the first time near the goal line this year. His goal-line touchdown might leave Dallas’ front office questioning why they waited so long to unleash their new X factor.
The red zone struggles have been very apparent for Dallas through the first three weeks of the 2023 NFL season. While the defense has been playing off the charts, the offense has quietly been sputtering in the red zone. The man who could change all of that is Hunter Luepke. He can run straight downhill and catch, as Luepke made his first NFL catch last week. Dallas should first copy the Zander Horvath play from Los Angeles, as Luepke and Horvath possess similar measurables. No matter how tricky the play, Luepke’s confidence should increase with his opportunities.
Next week’s matchup at San Francisco is going to be a heavyweight rematch, and Dallas can’t afford to leave a single point on the field. It’s imperative for a win that the Cowboys score touchdowns on their red zone trips. Hunter Luepke could end up being the secret weapon that curtails the red zone woes. Look for him to get more involved in the running and passing game against the 49ers.
Bonus: Defensive Tackle Chauncey Golston
Be careful what you wish for, Bill Belichick! Dallas got funky with it early against New England, as they faked the extra point after wide receiver CeeDee Lamb’s score. Everything looked and felt normal until Punter Brian Anger dropped back and threw a dime to defensive tackle Chauncey Golston. The former Iowa Hawkeye rumbled into the end zone for the first time in his professional career. While the play didn’t count as a touchdown, it would be a war crime to leave Golston off this list. The play was slightly reminiscent of Seattle’s fake field goal against Green Bay in the 2014 NFC Championship Game.
Dallas called this funky play for a reason. Remember last week’s matchup between New England and the Miami Dolphins? One can’t watch the replay of that game without marveling over safety Brenden Schooler’s heady special teams play. A special teams marvel, sure. A chance for Dallas to clap back, sure.
While Cowboys defensive tackle Chauncey Golston doesn’t have an NFL touchdown just yet, don’t be afraid to count your eggs now. The special teams trickery is a good sign for emergency goal line situations when nothing is working.
Main Photo: Tim Heitman – USA Today Sports