The Dallas Cowboys 2021 home opener was a special one for a few reasons. The return of quarterback Dak Prescott who injured his ankle last season on that very same field. The Cowboys most recent Hall of Fame inductees (Jimmy Johnson, Drew Pearson, and Cliff Harris) all received their Hall of Fame rings from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. The last reason has to be the dominant fashion in which the Cowboys were able to pick up a divisional win behind the arm of Prescott and the legs of running back Ezekiel Elliott, the latter of whom was being doubted. Just how dominant was this win, let’s take a look at the Cowboys grades to get a feel for just how good they played.
Overall this was a solid game from this Dallas Cowboys team, though not an “A” grade-worthy game. The offense had a few mistakes that took points off the board, the coaching staff had a few questionable decisions that we will go over. The defense also had a few issues that they should be able to clean up over time. Still, to get a win like this over your divisional rival in primetime is definitely going to send a message to the rest of the division and conference that the Cowboys are for real, no matter who’s injured or suspended.
Another game, another questionable situation regarding clock management. Last week, the issue was letting too much time run off the clock and the Cowboys having to be saved by Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein and his 56-yard field goal to win the game. This week it was Mike McCarthy’s decision not to call time out before halftime to give his offense a shot to put more points on the board. This isn’t the first time McCarthy has had to deal with clock management questions and it looks like it won’t be the last. The other reason this is a “B-” is that when you are backed up into your endzone, dropping back to pass with an empty-set is a risky move. The Cowboys could have easily run the ball to get more breathing room. The Cowboys didn’t and the Eagles got points because of it.
This was an emotional return to AT&T Stadium for Prescott who let it be known that the emotions would hit him at some point. He was able to get through that tough part and put up another good game going 21/26 for 238 yards and three touchdowns. There were a few times where Prescott didn’t seem to feel the defensive pressure and ended up taking four sacks in the game. Prescott also lost the ball in his own endzone. Yes, he was pressured, but ball security is paramount at that moment.
Running Backs: A
When you rush for 160 yards and two touchdowns, your running backs are doing exactly what you pay them to do. Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard carved up the Eagles defense both averaging 5.5 yards per carry on the night. Both also added to the pass-catching totals as Prescott’s outlet when he was under pressure. If these two are able to keep this up they will force teams to put eight men in the box and open up the Cowboys offense even more for Prescott and his receivers.
Wide Receivers: B
It was a quiet night for the Cowboys receivers with both CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper catching just three passes each, Cedrick Wilson catching two, and Noah Brown with one catch on the night. This wasn’t so much a matter of them not being able to get open as it was the Cowboys running backs being so effective rushing the ball. The Eagles also played a lot of two-high safety looks which made it easy for Prescott to audible and pick up easier yards on the ground with Elliott and Pollard, and use his tight ends.
Tight Ends: A
It’s time for everyone to acknowledge that Dalton Schultz has become the Cowboys best tight end on the roster. While Blake Jarwin has made plays for the team, Schultz has been consistent each week giving Prescott a reliable target down the field while also give him protection when he stays in line to block. Schultz had a coming-out performance Monday night with six receptions for 80 yards and two touchdowns and adding another wrinkle for this explosive offense and headache for defenses.
Offensive Line: C
The offensive line was receiving quite a bit of praise from the ESPN announcers for their protection of Prescott and opening of running lanes. They did do a good job of opening running lanes for Elliott and Pollard, but when it came to protecting Prescott in the pocket it was a different story. Whether it was Tyler Biadasz being pushed into the lap of Prescott on multiple occasions, Derek Barnett beating Terence Steele for a sack, or the multiple holding penalties that Connor Williams picked up once he was beaten in his pass protection, some of the Cowboys lined struggled in pass protection. Teams will start to attack Biadasz with bull rushes up the middle and speed inside against Williams after seeing the Eagles defense get Prescott on the ground four times in the game.
Defensive Line: B+
In their second game without their Pro Bowl pass rusher, the Cowboys once again held their own and were able to get Jalen Hurts on the ground twice in a winning effort. They also held this Eagles offense to just 64 yards rushing, with the only big running play coming later in the game and not really being their fault. Randy Gregory and Micah Parsons kept Hurts in the pocket but it was rookie Osa Odighizuwa who dominated the Eagles offensive line, at times forcing Hurts to make poor throws or be flushed out of the pocket throwing the offense’s timing off most of the night. The Cowboys got another good one in Odighizuwa.
Monday night, the only real big run for the Eagles came when Jaylon Smith went outside leaving a gap for Miles Sanders to exploit and pick up 24 yards. The Eagles basically gave up on the run game before the game even started, so the linebackers were left in coverage much of the night, or to chase Hurts out of bounds. They didn’t make any huge plays, but they also kept Hurts in check running the ball.
Let’s give Trevon Diggs a standing ovation, he talked a lot this offseason and has backed it up so far in this young season. Coming up with his third interception of the season that he was able to take to the house. And don’t look now, but Anthony Brown was able to get an interception of his own saving a touchdown. Those two along with the play from safeties Damontae Kazee, Jayron Kearse and Malik Hooker has been so great to see overall. They still have some issues as the Eagles did put up 300+ yards passing, but overall they are an improving bunch.