With every snap Dak Prescott takes this season, expectations are sky high for a franchise QB that’s been surrounded by an elite defense, but an unproven supporting cast on offense. It was one of these unknown receivers that hauled in Prescott’s first touchdown pass of the season, with Peyton Hendershot putting the game away deep in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys defense had done their job to that point, holding down the Detroit Lions enough for the offense to work through some rust in Prescott’s first action since week one.
Dan Quinn’s unit would then turn up the pressure one more time to seal the win on Jared Goff’s second consecutive fumble, forced by Micah Parsons. The Cowboys win helps them stay alive in chasing the 6-0 Eagles who were on a bye this week, and the Giants who won on the road at the Jaguars to reach a surprising 6-1.
Before a week full of discussion on how much room this team has to grow now that Prescott is back under center, here are a few takeaways from Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium.
- The Cowboys offense showed a familiar predictability that they were unable to overcome last season, but have the personnel to make the needed changes. This is especially true at tight end, where Dalton Schultz battled through injury to have his best game since week one with Prescott. Schultz did miss a key block on the second series of the game however, allowing Lions CB Jeff Okudah to make a third-down stop on Ezekiel Elliott. Plays like this have allowed Peyton Hendershot and Jake Ferguson to still see the field, and with Prescott going through his reads when given a clean pocket, the Cowboys have plenty of under the radar weapons for Kellen Moore to use. This was also one of the most balanced games of the season for the backfield duo of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, with Pollard being on the field for both of Elliott’s short-yardage touchdowns, and ripping off a 28-yard run of his own.
- Even with having four tight ends active, the Cowboys couldn’t help Tyler Smith or Terence Steele enough in pass protection on either of the Lions’ sacks. Smith has gone through the growing pains the Cowboys said they would live with in the first-year transition to left tackle, and the added mobility of Prescott could be the only thing that buys him the time still needed to adjust. The Lions got home without sending extra defenders, with the added numbers in coverage making it hard for CeeDee Lamb, Noah Brown, and the Dallas receivers to find space.
- Another position where the Cowboys are still figuring out their best starting lineup is at safety, where Jayron Kearse was targeted in coverage against T.J. Hockenson for multiple big plays. Kearse playing in coverage allowed Donovan Wilson to play his more natural position as a box safety, but the Cowboys secondary still allowed Jared Goff to complete over 80% of his passes, losing cornerback Jourdan Lewis to an injury in the fourth quarter. Trevon Diggs continued to make plays on the ball, breaking up a third down slant route and starting the second half with an interception that led to a Cowboys touchdown. The Cowboys defense kept the team in games just like this a year ago, and the next challenge for this secondary will be another NFC North opponent in Justin Fields and the Bears.
- The deepest and most talented position group on this team got better on Sunday with rookie Sam Williams having his breakout game along the defensive line. Williams had two sacks, a forced fumble and recovery as he showed off the speed and power to rush both inside and out. It’s been a season-long theme that the Cowboys defense is at its best dialing up blitzes that leaves the secondary in single coverage, but this could change if more help is needed on the back end, and if Quinn can trust his front four to get more pressure with names like Williams and Dante Fowler emerging.