Despite missing multiple key players, the Dallas Cowboys cruised to a big win over the Chicago Bears. It was something of a role reversal for the Cowboys, as the offense helped carry a defense that had some trouble getting the opponent off the field. A look at the stats from the game paints an interesting picture.
Time of possession is meaningless
This is a number the Bears absolutely dominated, 36:04 to 23:56. Of course, this is a stat that often means nothing as far as who wins a game. It does, however, tell us a few things about how the game progressed.
Chicago is very much a running team. Justin Fields only had 24 passing attempts, although several plays started out with an intent to pass, but he pulled it down and got yards on the ground. The Bears wound up with 43 running plays. That is one way to eat up clock, as you don’t have many incomplete passes to stop it, and pass plays also are more likely to end with the receiver going out of bounds. Of course, the four touchdown drives they mounted helped a lot in keeping the ball. Three of them lasted over six minutes.
In contrast, the Cowboys were a model of efficiency. Their first touchdown drive only took 4:42 off the clock - and it was by far their most time-consuming scoring drive all game. The other five were 3:12, 2:51, 2:35, 2:51, and 3:05.
A big reason Dallas was not using much time, especially in the first half, was their extensive use of a hurry up offense. They went no huddle on eleven plays in the first half, when they scored a touchdown the first four times they had a ball. It kept the Chicago defense from making adjustments and made it harder to get set for the snap. The Cowboys just didn’t need much time to race down the field.
Further reflecting the incredible efficiency for Dallas was that they only had 58 total offensive plays to 79 for Chicago. If you are getting to the end zone so rapidly, you don’t care how many plays the other team holds the ball.
A stellar day for Dak
Just looking at the stat line doesn’t make this evident. He completed 21 of 27 passes for 250 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. He also added 34 yards and a touchdown rushing the ball, most on the somewhat humorous 25-yard quarterback sneak.
What was really good was the 8.6 yards per passing play, nearly double what Fields had. Clearly there was no need for Prescott to throw the ball more as they kept scoring. He was very accurate. He only took two fairly deep shots, the 30-yard completion to Dalton Schultz and the interception near the end of the first half. Otherwise, he was everything we had hoped he would be after returning from his injury. If he keeps this up, this is going to be a team to be reckoned with the second half of the season.
Pre-MNF, Dak Prescott was PFF's 3rd-highest graded passer in Week 8. #Cowboys— John Owning (@JohnOwning) October 31, 2022
Raw numbers don’t tell the whole story.
This is the opposite of the case with Prescott, as this stat line tells a legitimate story. Tony Pollards had 14 carries for 131 yards and three touchdowns, including the 54-yard score that padded his per carry average to 9.4 yards. He also had a 16-yard reception to bring his total touches to 15. The team needed a strong outing from him with Ezekiel Elliott inactive to allow more time to heal from his knee issue. Before the game, many were worried about holding Elliott out with the Cowboys still chasing the Philadelphia Eagles to try and claim the NFC East crown. Pollard quickly silenced those concerns.
Further, his ability to produce without having to amass a ton of carries means that the team will likely continue with its roughly 60/40 mix of carries between Elliott and Pollard. They may choose to give a bit more to Pollard in the Green Bay Packers game coming out of the bye to help protect Elliott, and could also do so depending on other matchups. But Dallas has the luxury of two starting-caliber running backs, which means defenses get absolutely no break when they switch out. Pollard may continue to have more big play potential but that does not diminish Elliott’s value. The real key here is that the offensive line did a really good job opening up the running lanes. You can also add in the work of the tight ends, who so often have key blocks on good runs.
Love these young TEs and what they bring to the offense. It has given Kellen Moore new tools and he is putting them to good use. pic.twitter.com/yd2vHRq7CU— Massey ✭ ✌ (@TheJAMassey) October 31, 2022
Also, I just wanted to throw this in here, because Tyler Biadasz is often overlooked.
Pre-MNF, Tyler Biadasz is PFF's second-highest-graded OL in Week 8. #Cowboys— John Owning (@JohnOwning) October 31, 2022
The bottom line is that as long as Elliott and Pollard are combining for 150 yards or so on the ground, the run offensive is working.
Offensive balance was obvious
There is something of a debate about whether teams should rely more on the run or the pass. In their offensive explosion against Chicago, the Cowboys took the best course, choosing both. They had 242 net yards passing and 200 rushing. That kind of balance is a nightmare for opposing defenses, especially when you factor in the increased use of play-action since Prescott returned.
Dak Prescott when using play-action vs. CHI:— John Owning (@JohnOwning) October 31, 2022
9 of 12 for 110 yards, 2 TDs and 1 big-time throw. 142.4 passer rating.
This means that since his return from injury, Dak has gone 20-of-25 for 231 yards and 3 TDs on play-action passes. #Cowboys— John Owning (@JohnOwning) October 31, 2022
Successful play-action does not rely on a strong running game, although Dallas certainly boasts that. What it does is make it impossible for a defense to diagnose what is coming based on personnel and formation. It can be a handoff or a pass. Prescott is able to read the defense and if necessary audible to get the right play.
This increased use is also another indication of just how Kellen Moore has done an excellent job this year. First he got enough out of Cooper Rush to get four wins while Prescott was recovering. Now he has put together back-to-back games with really strong outings for the quarterback and the offense in general. It is funny how much better having multiple ways to get the job done makes him look. But he deserves a lot of credit for how he is cooking things up.
A couple of woes got so much better
The Cowboys were 9 of 11 on third down attempts, an 81.8% rate, and perfect on four trips to the red zone. Both are things that have plagued them this year. This was a dramatic turnaround, even a bit historic.
Cowboys improved from the No. 30 third-down offense during season's first seven weeks (32.2%) to now ranking 21st in category (37.8%). They converted nine of 11 attempts in Sunday's win over Bears, a 81.8% rate that was franchise's highest in game in at least 40 years.— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) October 31, 2022
That is how you score TDs on your first four possessions and hang 42 points on the opposing defense. These rates are likely not sustainable, but the Bears were statistically not a bad defense coming into the game. The ease with which Dallas ripped through them is one of the most positive signs from these stats.
The defense struggled - or did they?
The Bears had a whopping 240 yards rushing, including 60 from Justin Fields. This just proves that the run defense is weak and has a particular problem with running QBs.
Except for this.
We clearly need to explain that the smart teams WANT you to run the ball at them and appear "susceptible" to the run. Inviting the run is a real thing, folks.— Bob Sturm (@SportsSturm) October 31, 2022
When you look at the Chicago offensive output, you must also consider that they only had 131 net yards passing. Fields threw for 151 yards, plus backup Tyler Siemian had one five-yard completion, but the 25 yards on four sacks brought the overall total down. Don’t forget that 110 yards of that total came after the Cowboys went up by 20 in the third quarter. They had a lead that allowed them to focus on preventing big gains through the air. Having the Bears work down the field for a touchdown while eating 6:20 off the clock was acceptable, especially when they were able to answer on the next drive with another rapid score.
Yes, we can hope to see them improve in run defense, but things may be better than it first looks.
Penalties were a wash
Both teams had six infractions accepted against them, and Chicago was slightly worse in yards at 45 to 41. This is still something that needs to be cleaned up by Dallas, but it was at least an equitable situation.
Snap count notes
Something you may not have noticed was that rookie LB Damone Clark saw his first game action since being drafted. He was recovering from a herniated disc that required surgery after the NFL Combine, something that doctors for the Cowboys first noted. He was expected to go much higher in the draft before the diagnosis. Instead, Dallas took him in the fifth round. It was questionable if he would even see the field this year, but his recovery went much better than expected.
Before the game, it was thought that he would mostly play special teams, but he wound up on the field for 51% of the defensive snaps because of the Anthony Barr injury. He would have one solo tackle and five assists as the defense was swarming to the ball. That is impressive given his circumstances, and he could wind up a real steal.
Another player seeing his first action in a Cowboys uniform was Johnathan Hankins, who was just acquired in a trade with the Las Vegas Raiders. Hankins was in on 42% of the defensive downs, and was credited with three tackles. His role as a space-eating, hard-to-move nose tackle is about more than just that, as our Dan Rogers points out.
Johnathan Hankins put some good things on tape in his Dallas debut. You couldn't move him and there were no running lanes in the middle when he was in the game. pic.twitter.com/rer8kpIsBz— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 31, 2022
This could be another low cost addition that really pays off. Defensive end Dante Fowler was also a bargain acquisition, this time in the offseason, and he had a stellar game with five tackles, a sack, a QB hit, a couple of TFLs, and a pass defended. Since Dan does such a great job with his video cutups, let’s include the one he did for Fowler.
If all you remember from Dante Fowler on Sunday is his offsides penalty, then you are not doing him justice. He was a game-wrecker against the Bears. What a fantastic free agent signing he's turning out to be. pic.twitter.com/YPEN4WKM1J— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 31, 2022
Let’s continue the theme of low cost talent additions. Jason Peters continues to slowly increase his participation, playing 13 snaps at LG, or a bit over a fifth of the offensive plays. He was pointed out during the broadcast as part of why the running game was clicking for the Cowboys.
As we saw with the list of inactives on Sunday, depth is key. All four of these players are part of that equation, and right now, we should be very happy with the results.