The Dallas Cowboys opened up their season going toe-to-toe with the defending champions. Both teams were trading blows back and forth with the Cowboys led by Dak Prescott, but in the end, with the Cowboys leading with a little over a minute left in the game, they couldn't slow down quarterback Tom Brady enough to stop the game-wining field goal. Even though they lost this game, the Cowboys can use their strong showing and now focus their attention on their next opponent, the LA Chargers. Before turning our attention to that, we need to grade the Cowboys performance against the Buccaneers.
You would think that in a loss you won’t be giving an overall team grade a “B” but this team came into a tough environment and held their own against the defending champions. Many out there had the Cowboys losing this game by double-digits but the Cowboys proved they belong in the running as a team in the NFC that can make it to the Super Bowl. They have a few things that need to be cleaned up but if you take into account that they were missing Zack Martin and were breaking in a new defense, it’s pretty good.
The Cowboys coaching staff would have had a lower grade if it weren’t for the excellent offensive scheme called by Kellen Moore. His strategy to use his receivers on the outside to spread the defense out and attack the edges really exposed the Buccaneers. He effectively took away the strength of that defense in the defensive line and put all the pressure on the cornerbacks to come up and make plays. The two reasons that this team couldn’t have been graded higher have to do with the poor coaching on special teams from John Fassel, the decision to kick a 60-yard field goal by Mike McCarthy when your kicker is struggling, and Dan Quinn’s decision to not replace Anthony Brown who was being picked on all night long.
The biggest question of the Dallas Cowboys season was how will Dak Prescott fair in his return after two ankle surgeries and a shoulder injury in training camp. Prescott came out and eased all concerns going 42/58 with 403 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. He took hits, took off running at times, and most importantly he looked calm under pressure and unfazed by defenders around his legs. Prescott is back and with him back the Cowboys are most definitely contenders in the NFC again.
Running Backs: B-
The Cowboys game plan didn’t seem to have an emphasis on establishing the run, they tried but the Buccaneers interior defensive line was too stout to get Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard going with both combined rushing for 47 yards. The running backs were used in the passing game collectively securing six catches for 35 yards. The big element in this grade is the pass protection from Ezekiel Elliott which was excellent all night.
Wide Receivers: A
Other than the drops by CeeDee Lamb this unit was solid with every receiver making contributions. Amari Cooper, whose mission this season to prove he’s the best receiver in the NFL, started off strong with 13 catches for 139 and two touchdowns to lead the receivers in all categories. Lamb would also add a touchdown of his own. The only downside to this showing from them again was the drops by Lamb, but now with the news of Michael Gallup’s calf strain the Cowboys will look to Cedrick Wilson to pick up the slack.
Tight Ends: B-
The return of Blake Jarwin was a quiet one with three catches for 20 yards, while Dalton Schultz continues to show that he should be the Cowboys starting tight end as he was able to collect six catches for 45 yards in this game. The reason for the B- grade is their lack or real impact in the scoring department and the block that Jarwin failed to get that would have given Elliott a clear path the in endzone and given them a better shot at winning the game.
Offensive Line: B
Second year center Tyler Biadasz held his own against two of the stronger defensive tackles in the league. He along with Connor McGovern were the real questions marks heading into this game and they held up well under the bright lights. Tyron Smith and La’el Collins both looked good in their returns against to very good pass rushers. Connor Williams had a few penalties called that hurt the offense. All in all this group is off to a good start and hopefully will get Zack Martin back next week but will be losing Collins for the next five games due to suspension.
Defensive Line: C
On rushing downs the Cowboys defensive tackles were getting the job done holding the duo of Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones to just 46 total yards rushing, but when it came to stopping the pass the defensive ends just couldn’t get enough pressure on Tom Brady. The only players that really got close were DeMarcus Lawrence and Dorance Armstrong. It’s nice to see the run defense coming around but the Cowboys are going to need this pass rush to start getting home or this secondary is in for a long season.
The Cowboys seem like they are still trying to figure out the best rotation for the linebackers and it showed as they frequently rotated them in and out during this game. It was interesting to see that Micah Parsons and Keanu Neal played in more snaps that last year’s starters Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. The other issue that will need to be figured out is which one is best suited to cover tight ends as they weren’t able to stop Rob Gronkowski in this game.
This unit still has a lot of work to do on figuring out who will start opposite Trevon Diggs who was the only cornerback that did a great job in this game. Diggs was on Mike Evans much of the game and held him to one catch on the night, Meanwhile Anthony Brown was picked on most of the night and just wasn’t able to keep up with the speed of Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin. They are going to need to figure this out quickly or teams will continue this trend. The safety rotation seemed to do okay and Damontae Kazee caused a fumble. But overall the secondary gave up too much in the passing game, and they couldn’t stop Tampa Bay on the crucial last drive.
Special Teams: D
Talk about letting your team down. This group just couldn’t get the job done in this game. Whether it was missing field goals and extra points or giving up big chunks of yards in the return game, this unit as a whole just wasn’t on their game and Fassel needs to right the ship as soon as possible.