For seven games, the Dallas Cowboys defense was the biggest factor in getting the team five wins. They sacked quarterbacks at a ferocious pace and kept games close enough for a limited offense with Cooper Rush to succeed. Then, when Dak Prescott returned from his thumb injury, they came up with five takeaways to help defeat the Detroit Lions. That was a testament to what Dan Quinn and his players have done. But it is not usually a sustainable blueprint. To have any real chance of success over the long haul, and especially into the playoffs, the offense has to carry its part of the load.
Against the Chicago Bears, the Dallas offense came roaring to life. It led to the most points scored by any NFL team this year in a single game, and across the board it was a yard-gaining, sticks-moving, points-scoring machine. It came in a game where the defense struggled against the run, and particularly a mobile quarterback in Justin Fields. It was not a moment too soon, and suddenly the last half of the season looks much more favorable for the Cowboys.
There were so many good things about this offensive performance; here are some of the things that jumped out on first look.
Dak is indeed back
The stat line may not look all that impressive. Prescott completed 21 of 27 passes, a healthy 78% completion rate, for 250 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. A very solid day at the office, but not exactly spectacular.
But wait. While Fields was the running quarterback everyone was talking about coming into the game, Prescott seemed to have taken offense at his not being mentioned for what he can do with his legs. He made his case with five carries for 34 yards and a touchdown, including a third and one quarterback sneak where he had a lane open up to his right and he scampered for 25 yards. Add that in, and his contributions to the win are more significant.
Then you must consider that all completions are not equal. The Cowboys converted a very impressive nine of eleven third downs during the game, and five of them were Prescott passes. That is how you score six touchdowns in a game, including on your four opening possessions. It didn’t hurt that the team was often getting past the sticks on first and second downs, but Prescott’s passing was certainly a part of that. This was one of the most impressive offensive outings of his career. He is at or near his peak performance level. That bodes well for a team that is hoping to make some noise in the postseason.
No Zeke, no problem
A disclaimer: If you are looking for an attempt to brew up a controversy over who should be the starting running back when Ezekiel Elliott comes back after the bye, this is not it. Elliott does some things very well, and his pass protection skills extend his value beyond yards gained.
But there is no question that Tony Pollard carried the running back load with aplomb and flair. He gained 131 yards on just 14 carries, including three touchdowns. He also added a 16-yard reception for good measure. His explosiveness was on display, no more so than on his 54-yard touchdown run.
For those who might want to argue that he needs more touches, note that his 14 carries were not much more than he has been getting when Elliott is playing. Looking at things without trying to have an agenda, this is more a case of Dallas having two starter quality running backs with different skill sets that they can rotate and even put on the field at the same time. That is a great problem to have, if you think it is indeed a problem. With Prescott’s contributions and some work from rookie Malik Davis, the Cowboys got exactly 200 yards on the ground. When you can pair that with around 250 through the air, you can win a lot of football games.
The depleted receiving corps was just fine
CeeDee Lamb led the team with 77 yards and a touchdown on five catches. Dalton Shultz had the most receptions with six, adding 74 yards and the longest pass play of the day for 30. Michael Gallup was more active this week, gaining 49 yards on four grabs. Peyton Hendershot added two receptions on one scoring drive, and Jake Ferguson only had one yard on one catch - but it was for a TD.
Note that only two of the receivers who caught balls in the game were WRs as Schultz helped make up the difference. The absence of Noah Brown was not at all a hindrance to Prescott. Or to the offensive coordinator.
Kellen Moore was in his bag
He has taken his share of criticism. The praise he deservedly got for getting four wins with Cooper Rush at QB was almost grudging.
There can’t be any complaints about how he called this game, because it was brilliant. In the first half, he used no huddle on all four of the scoring drives to keep Chicago from adjusting. He would go heavy run on some drives, then, as on the second possession of the game, he would dial up five consecutive passes. Bryan Anger only had to punt twice (for a whopping 71 yards per punt) because the Cowboys just kept getting first downs and scores. The second punt came late in the game when there was no real need to get another score.
It was as good a game as Moore has planned and called in recent memory, and certainly ranks as one of his best. Now that he has QB1 back and should have Elliott and Brown both returning after the bye, we should all hope he can come up with some more gems.
The offensive line
Let’s not forget the big’uns up front. You don’t get 200 yards rushing and only have your QB sacked once unless they are doing their job. The announcers gave them shout outs for the holes they opened up for the runners. And the lone sack came on the next to last possession of the game when Prescott should not have been throwing the ball anyway.
It is something that has been brought up before, but should be again, that the offensive line was one of the biggest concerns to start the season after the Tyron Smith injury. They have not been perfect, but in most of the games they have been far more than adequate. Somehow the staff has pulled this off. The offense starts up front, and in this game in particular, they were very impressive. This game also saw Jason Peters get some work, and that is very encouraging on the depth front.
This was a game where the defense was not up to its usual standards, and it still resulted in 49 points (42 by the offense), a perfect performance in the red zone, and a 20 point win. This is the offense we hoped the team would have all year. It has been late getting here, but it has arrived in time to give us real hope for this season.