It is a different world for the Dallas Cowboys. They have Dak Prescott back on the field, and his first game back was a success as they defeated the Detroit Lions. Now they face another NFC North team, the Chicago Bears. Like the Lions, the Bears are having their struggles. This should be another win before the Cowboys have their bye week.
Or should it? In the NFL, you can never be sure of anything. This year, the league, and particularly the NFC, is short on dominant teams. Dallas may be poised to become one of the elite in their conference now that QB1 is back, but we are a long way from being able to say that. Meanwhile, teams that have been doing poorly can rise up at any time and perform much better than their record would indicate. This could be a step forward for the Cowboys, or it could be a dreaded trap game. How that turns out will depend on the answers they come up with for these questions.
Will the defense handle the Chicago offense?
On paper, this should be the case. Before they played on Monday night, the Bears were ranked 30th in total yards, 30th in points per game, and dead last in passing yards. That seems a perfect storm for the Cowboys defense. Their strength is rushing the passer, and they lead the league in sacks by a margin of five. They go up against a team that has surrendered the most sacks in the league. This is a game where Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong, and rising rookie Sam Williams should have their ears pinned back as they descend on Justin Fields and a passing game that is also the worst in the NFL in yards per game.
Then MNF happened. Against the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick, they relied on one thing they do very well, running the ball. They lead the league in rushing yards per game after that game, moving up from second to first after gaining 243 yards against New England. Yes, they are the worst passing and best running offense in the league.
We discussed questions that we want to see the Cowboys answer against the Bears on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
Dallas is, of course, very, very good against the pass, but rushing has been the vulnerability of their defense. They must do a better job and not let Chicago control the game on the ground. It was perhaps not a coincidence that the day after watching the Bears maul the Patriots, the Cowboys traded to acquire defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins from the Las Vegas Raiders. He is a true space-eating, run-stuffing nose tackle, with his weight listed as somewhere between 320 and 340, depending on the source. While the team often prefers to work new players into things, this may be a situation where Hankins is going to see a bit of a heavy workload immediately.
Against the Lions, Dallas reasserted its ability to take the ball away from the opponent, while continuing a trend that included Cooper Rush’s stint at QB of protecting the ball on offense. They now have the second best turnover margin in the league at +6. But the Bears also had a good day in their last game, and have a +1 margin. Who protects the ball the best is going to be a significant thing to watch.
It will probably come down to whether Dallas can force Chicago to throw the ball by either doing a better job against the run, including keeping Justin Fields from hurting them the way he did the Patriots, or getting a lead that forces Fields to throw. It is not all stacked in the Cowboys’ favor, and what the Bears did on Monday is a sign they need to be careful.
Will Dak continue to improve?
In his first game back, Prescott looked rusty in the first half, but was much better in the second. That is hopefully an indication of things to come. Unless the game turns out to be much closer than we hope, it should be another game where he can work on his rhythm and footwork, the most obvious areas that rust showed up. The two games after the bye are against the rest of the NFC North. The Green Bay Packers have struggled lately, but you can never count them out if Aaron Rodgers can return to form. After that they go up against the Minnesota Vikings, the only NFC five-win team not in the NFC East. They need to be in midseason form for, well, the middle of the season as they are chasing both the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants in their own division.
While hope is warranted for Prescott to continue to improve, it is still just his second game back from injury. Additionally, the Cowboys are a slow starting team of late. That forces them to rely on that defense to keep them in the game until they get sorted. It is not a good formula and is hard to sustain. A strong outing from the starting QB would be very helpful.
Will Kellen Moore call a good game?
It’s not like he’s done a bad job. His game-planning and play-calling were big factors in the 4-1 stretch without Prescott. But too often, drives stall. Sometimes it seems to be because he goes too deep in his bag of tricks and gets away from the basic things the team does well. Those end arounds and reverses just don’t seem to pan out. The team is likely better served by sticking with what is working.
One thing like that seemed to emerge against Detroit.
Dak Prescott went 11-of-13 for 121 yards & a TD with play-action vs DET, meaning Dak used PA on 50% of his dropbacks. His PA usage has hovered around 25% in previous seasons. If this is an indication that #Cowboys will continue to use PA frequently, it's a very good thing IMO— John Owning (@JohnOwning) October 24, 2022
Play-action is a perfect call for Prescott, who brings mobility and a threat to get yards with his legs. He is very accurate on the move, perhaps even more so than standing in the pocket. This would be a great trend for Moore to extend.
However, the most important thing for the offensive coordinator to carry forward from the Lions game might be the way his team ran the ball. While Dallas has not been all that good stopping the run, Chicago has been even worse. They yield the third most yards rushing per game in the league. Moore was fairly conservative using Prescott last Sunday due to the layoff. This time, he might want to continue that just because it may be the best way to keep moving the ball against the Bears.
Can the offensive line overcome even more depth issues?
It was a problem in the offseason. It became a huge issue when Tyron Smith was injured. Now it just got worse.
Depth on Cowboys’ offensive line has taken a couple blows of late. Rookie LT Matt Waletzko (shoulder) was placed on injured reserve Saturday and will miss rest of season. Now, C/G Matt Farniok (hamstring) likely out several weeks. https://t.co/QcJcfb1dCv— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) October 24, 2022
While so many things have gone well, like how they have not missed Randy Gregory or, to a lesser extent, Amari Cooper the way we feared, the offensive line continues to be a major concern. While the starters have been consistent for most of the season, and Jason Peters looked good in his limited snaps on Sunday, there is very little now to back them up. Josh Ball is currently the next man up at tackle, unless they are willing to move Peters out. And they have to do something to replace Farniok, who also was being used as a fullback on some plays. The most likely move seems to be elevating C Alec Lindstrom from the practice squad. They also have offensive linemen Isaac Alarcón, Aviante Collins, and Dakoda Shepley on the PS.
Still, this looks like a great time to sign more offensive line depth. Of course, that has been true since at least the day after the draft.
Will Turpin time fully arrive?
It came so close last game, as KaVontae Turpin was just one player away from taking a punt to the house. He still got 52 yards, but the offense was unable to do anything with excellent field position. It would be great to see him take matters into his own hands with a return touchdown.
It continues to seem inevitable, especially on those punts.
Fifteen NFL players have returned more than 10 punts this season. Their average yardage per return:— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) October 24, 2022
*Cowboys WR KaVontae Turpin https://t.co/C2Im3J4acP
The only way for other teams to make sure it doesn’t happen is to just punt the ball out of bounds or, if in range, put it in the end zone and take the touchback. As long as the opponents put the ball in play, Turpin is a score just waiting to happen. Perhaps this is the game it does.