The end result was all we could have hoped for. Dak Prescott’s return was a success for the Dallas Cowboys in their 24-6 win over the Detroit Lions. A look at the stats and numbers from the game, however, show that this was a mixed bag for the team in many ways. Some things were not good, others were just average, and a couple were pretty great.
Let’s lay it out.
The return of the takeaway machine
Last year, the Cowboys leaned heavily on the team’s league leading turnover margin. That has not been the case so far this season, as they have relied more on just stymying offenses except for the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Against the Lions, they were still fairly stingy, only allowing 312 total yards and two field goals.
This was a flashback to last year, however, as they would wind up with five takeaways, all in the second half. With the offense only losing the ball once, the plus four was an almost insurmountable edge, and Detroit was hardly able to do so. The overall performance for the Lions was certainly hampered as running back D’Andre Swift was inactive for the game and they lost wide receiver Amon-Ra St Brown to a concussion early. Still, the way Dallas kept taking the football away was a very welcome thing.
The first takeaway was questioned by the announcers, particularly former Dallas QB Tony Romo, who insisted Trevon Diggs did not pick the ball cleanly before hitting the ground. The play was not overturned by the automatic review for turnovers. It would lead to the first touchdown of the game and the Cowboys’ first lead. That was never surrendered.
Add in the five sacks of Goff, who had been very well protected prior to this game, and it was definitely one where the defense was the real difference.
Prescott’s slow start
HIs very first play of the game was a missed pass to Noah Brown. Had it been completed, it would have been a big gain, and could have changed the entire complexion of things. Instead, the offense would not only go three and out to open the game, they would do so on their next possession as well.
After winning the coin toss, Dallas elected to receive. It seemed clearly intended to get Prescott back in the saddle and see how quickly he could knock off the rust. It took a while to do so, and was a big part of the sluggishness to start the game.
QB1 would settle down, leading the team on two good drives in the first half. The first stalled and forced them to settle for a field goal to tie things up. Then the team was knocking on the door again when Noah Brown got upended in the end zone after a catch and coughed the ball up for the only turnover of the day for the Cowboys. After halftime, they would have the 73-yard TD drive following the Diggs interception, plus two shorter TD drives off two fumble recoveries.
Prescott would finish the day with 19 completions on 25 attempts for 207 yards and the late touchdown throw to Peyton Hendershot, the latter’s first ever score. His passer rating was 113.2, which is actually a very good start after his injury. The team did not have to ask too much of him. We can expect things to improve as he gets back in the groove, and the next game against the Chicago Bears should be a good opportunity for that before the bye. The only real problem was that he threw a couple of passes that should have been picks. Luck was on his side. He wasn’t really challenging deep most of the game. That, too, should come with more game reps.
This is definitely not one of the bright spots. Dallas only converted a third of their nine third downs. More disturbing is that several of those were third and ones. The Cowboys had been almost automatic on those, but both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard struggled to convert. That is something that definitely needs to be corrected.
Give some props to the normally porous Lions defense. As seems to happen frequently, they played much better against Dallas than they had against other opponents. Teams just seem to get up for America’s team. At least in this case, it was not enough to hang a loss on them.
The distribution between the two backs seems to be doing well
This is a good sign. For years we have been wishing for the team to get Pollard more incorporated in the offense. This season, the staff really has come through on that. This was one of the most even splits on carries, with Elliott getting fifteen and Pollard twelve. Pollard would have the most yards with 83. Elliott added 57, but that included two one-yard TD plunges. Both broke off some long carries. Pollard had the two longest plays of the game with runs of 28 and 24 yards. He also had a 19-yard reception. Elliott had runs of 18 and 14.
This balance seems to be working. The two backs tend to switch off a bit with who will have the best day, but as long as they are getting the job done, it doesn’t matter. This is another very good element as Prescott still has some work to do getting back to prime form.
Sam Williams had himself a day
The second-round rookie has been ramping up, and this was something of a breakout game for him. He had two sacks, including one where he didn’t tackle Jared Goff but just ripped the ball away from him to squelch the last bit of hope for the Lions in the fourth quarter. This was easily his best game of the season and he is starting to show why the team took him. He did flirt with a personal foul when he made a rather forceful tackle that could have been ruled throwing the ball carrier to the ground, but hey, we won’t bring it up to the officials.
This was shaping up to be a problem again for the Cowboys, but it was balanced by the Lions doing a bit worse. Dallas would draw seven flags for 55 yards, while Detroit got dinged eight times for 59.
However, having the other team bail you out through their own mistakes is not a viable way forward. Seven flags is still high. As we say after almost every game, this needs to improve quickly.
KaVontae Turpin almost broke it all the way
It wound up coming to nothing as the offense would have to punt the ball away after the return, but Turpin brought the stadium to its feet with a brilliant 52-yard return that once again seemed one avoided tackler away from going the distance. It just seems inevitable that he is going to go the distance before the season is up. Teams have to take his threat into account. Stephen Jones may not spend in free agency, but this is one bargain-signing that really looks good.
Meanwhile, the NFC East is killing it
The Eagles were on their bye, but both the New York Giants and Washington Commanders won close games. At least as far as the standings go, it is the class of the league.
NFC East through Week 7:— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) October 23, 2022
1. Philadelphia Eagles, 6-0
2. New York Giants, 6-1
3. Dallas Cowboys, 5-2
4. Washington Commanders, 3-4
The division teams have all had easy schedules, but that is largely reflective of how weak the NFC is as a whole. Outside the division, only the Minnesota Vikings have won five games. The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers are the only other NFC team that could have been above .500 after this week. The Seahawks won their game and are 4-3 while the 49ers lost and dropped to 3-4.
This is not at all what we expected to start the year. There are still a lot of games to be played, but is hard to argue this is all a mirage. Catching the Eagles is still going to be hard, but Dallas already has a win over the Giants.
No matter how you slice it, the Cowboys are one of the best teams in the conference. Now they just need to keep stacking wins. With Dak back, that looks like something that can indeed be accomplished.