Mostly anchored by their premier defense, the Dallas Cowboys got back to their winning ways after beating the Detroit Lions. In quarterback Dak Prescott’s first game back from injury, the offense at times struggled to capitalize on prime field position. Luckily, the defense was there to give the team critical stops when it mattered most. Sunday’s win was the epitome of a team victory. We already gave the game ball to Sam Williams for his breakout performance. Here are five other players that were a big part in carrying the Cowboys to their fifth win of the season.
Dak is back
In his much-anticipated return to the field, Dak Prescott had a pretty good day all things considered. Prescott was far from perfect and wasn’t without making a few mistakes, which is more than reasonable after a long layoff. What is notable however, is the difference in the Cowboys’ offense with Prescott at the controls and Prescott taking more of an aggressive mindset.
Prescott did sometimes force the ball into tight spaces. That also includes some ill-advised throws into double, and sometimes, triple coverage. Still, the Cowboys offense does need to start taking some risks.. It’s no secret that the aversion to taking risks with Cooper Rush was throttling back the offense.
Prescott had one terrific throw to Dalton Schultz over the middle of the field where he floated the ball over the head of Lions linebacker Alex Anzalone. Then, an even better pass was Prescott moving to his right and delivering a perfect pass to CeeDee Lamb near the right sideline in between two defenders.
What makes Prescott’s performance stand out is how he balanced having an assertive mindset versus a conservative one. A prime example is the offense’s series directly following a Jourdan Lewis interception in the fourth quarter. After a play where offensive tackle Tyler Smith was flagged for offensive holding, the Cowboys were forced into a 1st and 20 from the Detroit 36-yard line and questionable field goal range.
Prescott was patient on the next few plays and didn’t force the issue, hitting Noah Brown on two chunk plays of ten and fifteen yards respectively. Three plays later Ezekiel Elliott would score from the 1-yard line to give the Cowboys a two-possession lead with under three minutes left in the game. Dak Prescott being able to alternate between risk and reward gave the offense a much-needed boost.
Lions held captive on Diggs’ Island
Trevon Diggs once again had a terrific game. He was an eraser on the field and stifled the Lions’ passing attack. After Lions receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown left Sunday’s game with a concussion, the Lions were going to have to find others to get involved in the game. Trevon Diggs wouldn’t let them. Diggs was hardly tested against Detroit.
When the ball was thrown his way, Diggs did what he has done so often, which is make plays on the football. On one play in the game, Jared Goff was trying to throw to Josh Reynolds, who appeared to be open for a catch and a possible first down. In a flash, Diggs came out of nowhere to bat the pass down for an incompletion to force the Lions into a field goal attempt.
Then later in the game, Diggs grabbed another interception. Goff was looking to take a shot downfield and heaved a pass in the direction of Reynolds. Diggs, playing the ball in the air better than some NFL receivers, manages to secure the ball with a diving catch for the turnover. Diggs now has 17 interceptions in 35 career games and is playing once again at an All-Pro level.
Micah Parsons is the Lion King
When you think of the greatest pass rushers in the Cowboys’ history that includes Charles Haley and Demarcus Ware, it’s not unreasonable at this point to mention Micah Parsons in that class in only his second season. Against Detroit, Parsons recorded another sack to give him a total of 20 in 23 career games. Parsons is tied for the lead in the NFL for sacks with seven. Parsons is a natural pass rusher with an elite ability to bend around offensive tackles and has the speed to close on the quarterback quickly.
Jared Goff knew that and was skittish all afternoon, having to rush his progressions and get the ball out of his hands quickly. The Lions tried to give Parsons extra attention with a running back or tight end to help in pass protection out of fear of Parsons wreaking havoc. As usual, Parsons was still a nightmare for the opposing offense.
Perhaps the biggest play of Parsons’ day was his tackle on Lions tight end Brock Wright. With the Cowboys holding on tight to a 10-6 lead, the Lions were driving the ball deep into Cowboys territory. On 2nd and 5 from the Cowboys’ 18-yard line, Detroit called a well-timed screen to Wright. Wright had what looked to be a sure touchdown until Micah Parsons exploded down the field to tackle Wright just short of the goal line.
Every team in the NFL wishes they had a Micah Parsons. Your team always has a chance to do something special when your best player gives CHAMPIONSHIP EFFORT. pic.twitter.com/tXxtlPWw8g— Robert Griffin III (@RGIII) October 24, 2022
Parsons relentless effort was important on this play because on the very next play the Lions fumbled the football away to the Cowboys. Detroit never made it into red zone after that and Parsons’ was the turning point in the game. That example of hustle and determination by Parsons is why he is the leader of the pride.
Elliott leaves it all out there on the field
What feels different about this Cowboys team versus past iterations is their resilience and toughness. There’s probably no other player that more embodies that mentality on the roster than Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott has proven in his career that he can withstand a lot of punishment and come back for more. He can deliver some of that punishment, too.
Elliott’s 15 carries were taking the blows and delivering the body shots to wear down the Lions’ defense. Late in the second quarter after a 14-yard run, Elliott took a big hit to his leg and what looked like a scary leg injury. Like the fighter that he is, Elliott walked it off as the Cowboys entered the locker room for halftime.
After the break, Elliott showed no signs of injury and punished the Lions front on short yardage runs, falling forward for extra yards. He also turned back the clock to 2016 on a vintage Elliott run where he hurdled over a defender for a first down. Aside from the two touchdown runs, the box score number won’t be pretty but symbolic of the team. Zeke showed that if this team falls, they won’t stay down for long.
Lightning strikes after thunder
The Dallas Cowboys are a team in transition. As discussed on Hidden Yardage, the Cowboys are finding new ways to win football games and the days of being overly reliant on their passing game isn’t their desired formula for success. Armed with a top-tier defense and an explosive return game, the Cowboys are riding behind their rushing attack to complement their team. Tony Pollard is their way of being conservatively aggressive.
For example, after the Cowboys recovered a fumble by Jamaal Williams inside of their 5-yard line, they needed to find a way to get out of the shadow of their goalposts. The answer was Pollard. A short dump-off to Pollard turned into a nineteen-yard gain and Dallas got some breathing room. His speed and agility can turn the most mundane play call into a highlight.
It’s a great luxury to have a runner like Pollard as a change of pace in contrast to a bruiser like Elliott. Normally, the idea of a closer at running back is a strong, physical, downhill runner like Elliott. However, it looks far more demoralizing to a defense to have to defend the length and width of the field at the end of the game after dealing with Ezekiel Elliott. Pollard was efficient and timely, ending his day with 109 yards from scrimmage on only 14 touches.