If there is one word to describe the Dallas Cowboys 2022 season through five weeks, it would be unexpected. The offensive line playing admirably is surprising. The defense only allowing 14.4 points per game after playing the Buccaneers, Bengals, and Rams is equally impressive. And most shocking of all is the Cowboys' 4-1 record despite being down their QB1.
Dallas fans have learned to expect the unexpected with this team. But with all of the twists and turns this season, there are a handful of takeaways that are known for certain. And three more just came to light in the Cowboys' most recent win.
3 statistical takeaways from the Cowboys’ upset victory
Dak’s return could elevate this team to be a true contender
This might sound pessimistic given the victory, but it needs to be said: the offense is not good under Cooper Rush. Granted, Rush has been a perfect game-manager given the strength of the defense over the last four weeks. His 4 to 0 touchdown-to-interception ratio does not jump off the page, but it is the zero interceptions that is winning Dallas games.
However, it is a massive error to assume that the 4-1 record is a result of excellent, or even mediocre, offensive play. In fact, Dallas’ offense currently ranks:
- 24th by points per game
- 25th by EPA per play
- 26th by PFF grading
And it is not as if Rush is carrying this team while the rest of the offense struggles. His ranking among NFL QBs through five weeks is as follows:
- 27th by passing yards per game
- 22nd by EPA per play
- 24th by PFF grading
Once again, this is not a slight against Rush. He has done exactly what the Cowboys have needed him to do, and he has delivered in big moments. But the offense has been bad.
The good news is that the Cowboys’ QB1 is close to returning. If he is able to elevate this offense to be slightly above average, which is not a high bar, this team will be among the best in the league. Their defense is top-three by nearly every meaningful metric, and if you add a competent offense on top of that, the ceiling is a deep playoff run.
Now, there is no guarantee Dak will be able to turn the entire offense around. There are still questions surrounding the offensive line and receiving depth. But since entering the league in 2016, the Cowboys have finished as a “below average” offense under Prescott just once when he plays a full season. Trust the sample size and believe that this team could get scary very soon.
The defensive line is special because of their depth
After the Cincinnati Bengals win, it became apparent that the Cowboys' strength lay in their defensive line. On Sunday, that proved true again. The secondary play was average, the linebackers did what they needed to, and the entire offense struggled. So how did Dallas get the win? It is because Matthew Stafford likely had time to count every ceiling tile at SoFi stadium, given the amount of time he was on his back.
The defensive line is inarguably top-five in the league. That is not a real takeaway from this game. But what fans did learn is what makes them special, their depth.
Per PFF, the Cowboys have the best pass-rushing defensive line through five weeks. It is easy to assume that Micah Parsons is carrying an otherwise mediocre pass rush to “elite” level status. That is not the case. Dallas has an arsenal full of pass-rushing weapons, and Dan Quinn is expertly using them at his disposal. Just look at how deep this defensive line is compared to the average team:
- Dallas: 14 players were involved in the pass rush, 10 posted at least one QB pressure, five posted a pass-rush win rate above 20%, and five finished with a PFF pass-rushing grade above 70
- The average team in week five: 10.6 players were involved in the pass rush, six posted at least one QB pressure, 1.5 posted a pass-rush win rate above 20%, and 1.6 finished with a PFF pass-rushing grade above 70
Seven players on the defensive line have already recorded a sack this season. Compare this to just two years ago, when only eight players finished with a sack across the entire season. And names like Sam Williams, Chauncey Golston, Trysten Hill, and Quinton Bohana are all sack-less, but that is bound to change soon.
The level of depth on the defensive line allows Quinn to rotate fresh players in on nearly every play, and the players who are coming in are just as good as the ones walking off. But there is another benefit: when November and December roll around, and the injuries start piling up because it is the NFL and injuries are inevitable, the losses will hurt the Cowboys less than they will for other teams. Dallas won’t need to throw in a liability at defensive end, as the average team will do, because there are no liabilities on the defensive line anywhere on this roster.
This is a special unit, and that is because they have stockpiled starter-quality pass rushers.
Terence Steele has evolved into a legitimate starting RT
While it might have been overshadowed by the collapse of the Rams’ offensive line, the Cowboys' front five similarly did not show up in week five. With an average time to throw of 2.07 seconds, no quarterback got the ball out quicker than Rush last week. Additionally, Rush only dropped back 19 times, the lowest of any starting QB in week five. But despite all of that, Rush was still sacked three times, the seventh highest amount on the week.
Of the 166 linemen who started in week five, only two Dallas players finished in the top 140 of PFF grading: Tyler Biadasz and Terence Steele. Biadasz deserves his share of the praise, but this is becoming a pattern for Steele, and he has not received proper recognition. Currently, Steele sits as the highest-graded offensive lineman on Dallas’ team this team, just beating out Zack Martin, which is good for 33rd in the league.
What is especially impressive is that few expected this type of third-year jump from Steele. And the improvement is even more drastic if you are willing to throw out week one, where the entire front five fell flat. Here is how Steele’s 2022 campaign compares to last season on a per-snap basis:
- 2021 (per snap): .03 pressures allowed, .03 hurries allowed, .002 sacks allowed, 96.6 pass-blocking efficiency, 67.3 PFF run-blocking grade, 60.9 PFF pass-blocking grade
- 2022 (per snap, excluding week one): .01 pressures allowed, .003 hurries allowed, 0 sacks allowed, 98.4 pass-blocking efficiency, 72.0 PFF run-blocking grade, 77.1 PFF pass-blocking grade
The biggest jump has come in pass protection, but Steele deserves credit for evolving in all aspects of the game.
When Collins was released, the general perception was that Steele could be the weak link on the offensive line. But Steele is anchoring the right side, and with him and Martin together, teams are begging to overload the left because they know the right side will surrender no ground.
Steele taking this large of a step forward just months after people were calling for his replacement is certainly surprising. But even more surprising is what this team and coaching staff have accomplished over the last four weeks. A date with Philadelphia is up next, so fans have to hope there is still some magic left in this team.