Before the season started, the upcoming game against the Kansas City Chiefs looked like one of the most difficult ones on the schedule for the Dallas Cowboys. But early on, the Cowboys were surging while the Chiefs faltered. Now, the Chiefs’ luster has been reestablished after Patrick Mahomes broke out of the early doldrums with his 406-yard, five-touchdown performance against the Las Vegas Raiders last Sunday. This is once again seen as one of the biggest challenges for Dallas as they fight to stay in the hunt for the number one seed in the NFC.
Maybe that is so. Maybe it is not. Here is a look at some things that just might show that the reinvigorated Cowboys are going to continue their winning ways.
Since Mahomes had a game that leads many to say he is really back, let’s start with some analysis of his big game. Here is the NextGen Stats passing chart for him in the game.
First off, notice the number of passes he completed behind the line of scrimmage. Thirteen of them, or over a third of his total, were screens or throws out to the flat. The Chiefs were mostly marching down the field with those dink-and-dunk kind of throws. If you add the ones inside of ten yards past the line, that is 25, or over two-thirds of his completions. He did burn the defense with three long completions, but Las Vegas obviously did a poor job of stopping those short throws, allowing the Chiefs to sustain drives and get to a lot of those scores.
If the Cowboys defense continues to play the way they did last Sunday, that is not likely to happen. They have two weapons that should go a long way to shutting that short passing game down, Micah Parsons and Jourdan Lewis. Parsons has been excellent at diagnosing and disrupting plays behind the line, and Lewis had an outstanding game in shutting down Kyle Pitts and slot receivers. They will have a big role in slowing the Kansas City short passing game and getting the defense off the field. And with Anthony Brown and Trevon Diggs, Dallas also has the secondary to not only cut down on those deep completions, but make Mahomes pay with a pick or three. He has thrown ten this season, third most in the league.
Of course, one way Mahomes is particularly dangerous is when he uses his outstanding mobility and athleticism to extend plays. This may lead to the versatile Parsons having a role as a spy on him at times. He is one of the few players anywhere that is capable of running Mahomes down when he starts to freelance. It will be interesting to see how Dan Quinn tries to counter Mahomes, but the Cowboys look to be preparing for just that.
Because the Cowboys are facing Patrick Mahomes on Sunday, a segment of today’s practice will focus on scramble drills. Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said it will be a major part of their preparation all week— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) November 17, 2021
Don’t expect this to be as good a game for Mahomes as the last one.
One somewhat anomalous stat from that Chiefs-Raiders game was that Kansas City only had 25 rushing attempts. In a blowout like that, you would expect them to lean on the running game to burn the clock in the second half, but they kept chucking it at a pretty high rate. Their last two possessions were capped by the two longest Mahomes TD throws. Given that Las Vegas had pretty much surrendered to the inevitable at that point, this may have been a sort of reverse garbage time, piling up stats against a half-hearted attempt to slow things down. But it also reflects that they only were getting 3.8 yards per carry for the game. They have been missing running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. He is possibly coming back from his stint on IR, so that could change things a bit. Still, the offensive identity of the Chiefs is to put the ball in the quarterback’s hands and let him make something happen. Against the Atlanta Falcons, the Cowboys shut down both phases of the offense. It is one more area where we want to see them keep things going.
Further, in that game Kansas City had 76 offensive plays to 51 for the Raiders. Las Vegas simply was not able to sustain drives. They were one for nine on third downs, and only converted one of their two fourth-down attempts. After getting manhandled so badly against the Denver Broncos, Dallas was much better last week. And in two of the last three games, they have only allowed one third down conversion. If that Denver game was truly an aberration for the Cowboys, then this is going to be an interesting case of strength against strength.
We discussed all of the ideas here and more on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows. Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
When Dallas has the ball, it is more like strength against weakness. The Chiefs are yielding the seventh most yards per game. They are a bit better in points allowed, tied for eleventh most surrendered. But the Cowboys are scoring the most points and gaining the most yards of any team in the league. Everyone was gushing about how Mahomes got himself right against the Raiders after a lot of early struggles. Dak Prescott has been much more consistent in addition to having his own get-right game against the Falcons. Now he has Michael Gallup back which just increases the effectiveness of the entire receiving corps. While Dallas also ran up the score last weekend, they did so early and then just coasted to the win, with Cooper Rush coming in for the fourth quarter to make sure Prescott did not succumb to the temptation to take on defenders at the goal line again.
Kansas City is also high on both the yards and points per game lists. Points differential on the season is a bit telling, however. The Chiefs are only +21. Dallas is +89, which is the fourth biggest in the league. Another differential that could be important in this game is turnovers, where the Cowboys are +5 and Kansas City is a pretty bad -8. The Chiefs just do not do a great job taking care of the ball, having lost ten fumbles in addition to the ten picks thrown by Mahomes. Turnovers are very unpredictable, even random, but this trend certainly favors Dallas.
Recency bias is certainly a thing in the NFL, and that big win over the Raiders has many predicting this game will be a close, hard-fought one. But if the two teams play according to form for the entire season, this one may not be all that close. At least that is the hope for fans of the Cowboys.