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Crunching Cowboys stats for an ugly, but satisfying, win

You need to be able to get the W when some things just aren’t going well.

NFL: OCT 09 Cowboys at Rams
Elliott was the grinder for the offense.
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There were a lot of numbers that did not look good for the Dallas Cowboys against the Los Angeles Rams. The ones that were favorable were almost all for the defense, with a few special teams things sprinkled in. This win highlighted the imbalance of what the Dallas defense contributes versus the offense without Dak Prescott. The Rams don’t look to be anything close to the team that won the Super Bowl in February. Whether Prescott returns this week, or they have to continue on with Cooper Rush at QB, will have a lot to do with how things go in the upcoming fight with the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC East lead. Here are some things that the stats tell us about the game.

Pressure, pressure, pressure

It was another very long day at the office for Matthew Stafford. The Cowboys got to him for five sacks, including the fumble that led to the first score of the game. Just as important, they racked up eleven QB hits. That was a bunch of plays where Stafford ended up looking up at the roof over SoFi Stadium.

That takes its toll, and while Stafford would throw the ball for 308 yards, the most of any QB this season facing Dallas, the total is skewed by the 75-yard touchdown to Cooper Kupp. That was almost all yards after the catch. Stafford did have one very good long ball, the 54-yard completion to Tutu Atwell that, like the Kupp TD, was perfectly placed to defeat tight coverage by Trevon Diggs. On most other dropbacks, Stafford was feeling that pressure and it resulted in a lot of uncatchable throws.

Impressively, this was accomplished almost entirely by rushing just four.

They also got the job done in the second half while Micah Parsons was dealing with a groin injury that led to him just being used as a rusher. He still came through with two sacks, three hits, a tackle for a loss, and a forced fumble. The rest of the line was also contributing with relentless pressure.

This defense is for real, and when Prescott returns to add some firepower to the offense, the Cowboys are going to be one of the true powers in the NFC.

No running room for the Rams

One of the keys to the game was to make sure that L.A. could not get their ground game going to make them one-dimensional and letting that pass rush tee off. They came in as one of the poorest running teams in the league, and Dallas really succeeded in this phase. They only allowed 38 yards on the ground, and just got stronger as the game progressed.

When a team has one of the best pass rushes in the league, forcing teams to throw the ball is a formula for success. Keeping that working is going to be more difficult in the next game, however. Unlike the relatively immobile Stafford, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts is an outstanding runner. They use that to good effect with designed runs for him. And if the pass rush does not get to him, he will take off and gouge defenses. The Eagles are the fourth best team in the league in rushing yards per game. This is going to be a major challenge.

The offensive line stabilizes

The snap counts revealed that for the first time this season all five of the starting offensive linemen for Dallas played the entire game, plus every time Brett Maher lined up for a PAT or FG attempt. That is the good news, but it also has a caveat, as the depth is now extremely thin in the wake of Jason Peters’ injury. If this group can remain healthy, it is good news. That is not at all assured.

It was the roughest outing of the season for rookie left tackle Tyler Smith, but his biggest issue was facing the best defender in the league for the past several seasons in Aaron Donald. Donald got through Smith for two sacks and a forced fumble. Smith fortunately was able to fall on that loose ball, but it was flirting with disaster. He also was flagged twice for holding Donald, one of which was declined. However, he is not going to face the likes of Donald again in the regular season.

The rest of the line held up well, only allowing one other sack. Rush did suffer six other hits, but again Donald was a part of that with two. What they did do well overall was block for Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, including one truly outstanding play.

That helped the team get to 168 yards rushing for the game, and that was crucial as the passing game was very ineffective. It was another case of the offense managing to get just enough done to put a few points on the board while the defense was excelling.

This has to continue in the coming game. The Eagles are tenth best in limiting opponents on the ground. They also lead the league in turnover margin and that is something where the offensive line plays a big part. They have to stay healthy and play well if the Cowboys hope to avoid falling two games behind Philadelphia in the NFC East.

The dearth of big plays

The defense did a good job outside of the two longest pass plays by the Rams, which led to the only points of the game for L.A. But it was even worse for Dallas. Outside of the brilliant Pollard TD run, they only had one other play go for over 20 yards, the 27-yard toe-tapping completion to Michael Gallup on a third and fifteen play. It was Rush’s best throw of the game. Outside of those two, only five other plays exceeded ten yards.

While Pollard got the glory for his long TD, Elliott was the real workhorse, grinding out 78 yards on 22 carries. While he had a lot of runs that didn’t go anywhere, he had multiple runs for five or more yards, which helped move the sticks and keep the team out of bad second-down situations. Still, facing Philly, the team has to find a way to keep the sticks moving better than they did against the Rams.

That lack of big plays also led to a lot of very brief possessions for the Cowboys. Only two of their twelve possessions were for more than six plays. Both of those resulted in field goals as the team came up empty for red zone touchdowns. Something has to change for the offense, and QB is it. Rush’s stat line of ten completions on sixteen attempts, and only Gallup, CeeDee Lamb, and Noah Brown catching passes, is bad enough. The fact that he once again was saved from having a turnover, this time by teammates being there to fall on a couple of fumbles, also is a case of the team playing with fire in an unsustainable way. Kellen Moore has to either get help from Prescott or do a much better job of getting Rush to deliver.

It was a difficult but ultimately rewarding win, despite the warts. Dallas is one of only four teams in the NFC with four or more wins, so they are in good shape to get to the playoffs no matter how the next game goes. But getting better in some of the areas would make it a lot, lot easier.

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