The Dallas Cowboys enter their bye week with a record of 6-2. The last time this team started the season this good was way back in...well, it was last year. We all remember how great it felt for this team to get off to a hot start a year ago, but then things started to fizzle. They lost three of the four games they played in the month of November as it became apparent that something didn’t look right with Dak Prescott.
Things are different now. Instead of entering the bye week with their star quarterback dealing with a calf injury, they now have already weathered that storm. Prescott is back after missing five games with a thumb injury. The team is coming off a 49-point performance and a 20-point win, the highest mark of the season in both categories. It was a breakout game for the offense with some big defensive plays sprinkled in. Re-watching the tape showed how this Cowboys team got it done. Here are some things that we learned after further review.
We have all waited for this moment. Having Prescott play like he is capable of combined with the destructive force of this Cowboys' defense would be quite a daunting challenge for opposing teams. While the defense wasn’t its usual dominant self, the offense picked a great time to come alive, and Dak was back to doing Dak things.
You could see a much more poised Prescott in the pocket. He was decisive with his throws and didn’t hesitate. He was only sacked once and that came when backup running back Malik Davis failed to pick up a blitz. Dak's grip looked very strong as released the ball with authority. He displayed great footwork and it helped him throw the ball with pinpoint accuracy. Prescott completed 77% of his passes on the day.
I was super impressed with Dak Prescott's mechanics on Sunday against the Bears. His footwork was outstanding, his internal clock was working, and he was letting it rip. This is the version of Dak Prescott that the rest of the league should be worried about. pic.twitter.com/5ck7bu2nVP— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 31, 2022
Fun fact: When Prescott completes at least 75% of his passes, the Cowboys never lose. They are a perfect 19-0.
Pollard is a special talent
There is a large debate within Cowboys Nation as to who should be getting the majority of the work out of the backfield. Ezekiel Elliott is the hard-nosed veteran incumbent, and Tony Pollard is the electric “change-of-pace” back.
Coming into this year, Pollard has been the more efficient back, despite getting far fewer touches than Zeke. This year is no different; however, the Cowboys are gradually giving Pollard more and more work. That’s a wise choice as the Cowboys are a perfect 11-0 when he gets at least a dozen carries in a game. Usually, that is a stat that comes from a result of a favorable game script when the Cowboys have the lead and the team is allowed to go run-heavy where both Zeke and Pollard are getting plenty of touches. That was not the case on Sunday as there was no Elliott. It was all TP and boy was he something.
The praise on Pollard is that he has more juice than Zeke. While that is evident, he is also very good at weaving through traffic while traveling at speed. This was why he was one of the best kick returners during his college days at Memphis. He cuts quickly and keeps his burst, blowing through any attempts at arm tackling, and then off in space he goes. And once he gets out in the open field, it’s over.
If you give Tony Pollard creases, he will make great use of them. On Sunday, the Cowboys' offensive line was parting the orange sea. Pollard's vision, his swift jump cuts, his explosive burst...what a wonderful sight to see. pic.twitter.com/raAZLbx0Z1— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 31, 2022
Pollard is averaging 6.2 yards per attempt this season compared to Zeke’s 4.1 yards per attempt. The Cowboys don’t have to pick one or the other right now, but they do need to find ways to get the ball into the hands of Pollard more frequently and it shouldn’t take an injury to Elliott to pull it off.
Dak can run too
It was funny to see Prescott scamper off for 20+ yards on a QB sneak, but that was just bad tackling by the Bears’ defense. Sometimes, you don’t even get a chance to miss a tackle if the play design is so well disguised that it has you going in all the wrong directions. The Cowboys had a lot of that going on in Sunday’s game. Here is one example of a clever goal-line play call.
I love this play design. The Cowboys have a lot of red zone weapons and Dak Prescott is one of them. pic.twitter.com/mofCuzGqh0— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) November 1, 2022
Hankins did exactly what he was supposed to do
The Cowboys traded for the big nose tackle in the middle of last week and he saw 33 reps on Sunday. How did he do exactly? Well, the stat book showed the Cowboys get lit up for 240 yards on the ground, which is the most this defense has given up since that dreadful Mike Nolan season. But when you look closely at the tape, there’s a contrasting difference in how the running game looks when Hankins was in the trenches versus when he’s not.
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
And it wasn’t good when he was on the sideline.
The Cowboys continue to give up big plays in the running game, and it's usually an assortment of mistakes that cause it. These mistakes were on display during this big 36-yard gain. pic.twitter.com/CBH9vOJWQE— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) November 1, 2022
(Note: video identifies Hooker when I meant Bland)
The forgotten one
The Cowboys didn’t splurge on free agency this year, but one guy they did get is veteran edge rusher Dante Fowler. The 28-year-old has made his share of mental miscues (such as lining up offsides that nullified a third-down stop), but he has also shown up quite a bit by making splash plays. He had one of his better games against the Bears as he was all over the place doing all kinds of things.
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
With Micah Parsons killing it, DeMarcus Lawrence playing at a high level, Dorance Armstong breaking out, and even the rookie Sam Williams balling at times, Fowler is often forgotten about. He shouldn’t be though. This pass-rushing group is a never-ending smorgasbord of destruction and Fowler is a part of it.
No Lewis, no problem
This defense played its first game of the year without veteran slot corner Jourdan Lewis who is out for the year with a foot injury. While Lewis is a fiery competitor who plays with a lot of physicality, he does come with some flaws - size and speed.
Those negatives don’t exist with Fresno State rookie DaRon Bland, and he put both of them to good use at the right time against the Bears.
DaRon Bland has great length and makeup speed. Both were on display in this touchdown-saving play against the Bears. pic.twitter.com/58kI0r4gWP— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 31, 2022
Hendershot’s a ghost!
We’re at a point where if the Cowboys' special teams unit doesn’t block something, it’s a disappointment as they’re always up to something. They had a golden opportunity to block a punt had it not been for the skinny frame of UDFA rookie Peyton Hendershot.
John Fassel is doing something at the line of scrimmage to confuse blockers. The Cowboys are frequently getting rushers into the backfield with little or no resistance. Peyton Hendershot must be a ghost this Halloween weekend because this one went right through him. pic.twitter.com/TwPtJYJUER— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 31, 2022