The Cowboys endured a fairly soul-crushing loss to the Packers in overtime despite clearly being the better team. Once the game became close, it felt like the Packers were destined to win; they just have more experience in those kinds of games, even after losing five straight prior to this one.
That inexperience especially impacted some of the Cowboys’ rookies, many of whom played prominent roles in this game. Let’s take a look at each of them.
OL Tyler Smith
It was a rough day all around for the Cowboys in pass protection, and Tyler Smith was no exception. He gave up two pressures and allowed a hit on Dak Prescott. Smith, along with the rest of the offensive line, didn’t give up a sack as both sacks were charged to Dak Prescott by PFF. Nevertheless, that pressure was disappointing considering the Packers were without their best pass rusher in Rashan Gary.
Smith was once again strong in run blocking, though. That’s been the case all year, with Smith looking good in the run game but still putting things together in pass protection. The rookie has definitely exceeded expectations, but there likely won’t be any debate on what to do with him once Tyron Smith returns.
EDGE Sam Williams
Sam Williams returned after sitting out the Bears game with a small injury, and it was very good to have him back. He only played 17 snaps on defense, roughly on par with his usual workload, but Williams once again flashed. He had just two tackles on the day, but one was a sack while the other was a big run stop.
Williams is just teeming with potential right now, and he’s capitalizing when he gets opportunities. The Cowboys don’t need him to play a bigger load of snaps yet, but they might be forced into doing so with how effective Williams is.
WR Jalen Tolbert
One of the most frustrating storylines this year for the Cowboys has been the inability of rookie receiver Jalen Tolbert to factor into this offense in any meaningful way. Coaches have essentially said he isn’t ready, which has only added to the frustration.
Well, on Sunday, fans got a good glimpse of just how “not ready” Tolbert is. Tolbert only saw eight offensive snaps in the game and was mostly used as a blocker. One such play came in overtime, when Tolbert lined up offsides and never got reset. He ended up getting flagged for it, and the penalty erased a first down run from Tony Pollard. Unsurprisingly, the Cowboys didn’t like the penalty.
“Jalen said the ref told him to scoot up on the line.” - Dak Prescott— Patrik [No C] Walker (@VoiceOfTheStar) November 14, 2022
Tolbert’s offsides penalty was also questioned by Mike McCarthy - who also said the rookie did check with the official before the snap. #Cowboys
Regardless of whether Tolbert was told he was good by the side judge, he simply has to get that right. It’s a fundamental part of receivers’ jobs pre-snap. Had Tolbert looked towards the middle of the field, he'd be able to see that he was very clearly offsides. It was a mental mistake that was indicative of why the rookie hardly sees the field.
Tolbert is lucky that the Cowboys picked up a first down on the very next play, reducing the impact of the penalty. But it’s still a negative mark for the struggling rookie.
TE Jake Ferguson
Jake Ferguson has been gradually emerging as a pass-catching option, so it was a little surprising to see the rookie come away with zero targets for the first time in a month. Once again, Ferguson was used mostly as a run blocker, with 16 of his 26 offensive snaps coming on run downs. He’s excelled there all year, but Ferguson could have helped a bit in the passing game in this one.
OT Matt Waletzko
Matt Waletzko is on the injured reserve.
CB DaRon Bland
DaRon Bland made his second start at nickel corner since Jourdan Lewis was lost for the season, and he had his “Welcome to the NFL” moment in quite a few ways. To no one’s surprise, Bland was thrown at more than any other defender in this game, and he gave up completions on four of his five targets.
Two of those completions were huge plays, too. First, Bland was dusted by fellow rookie Christian Watson on a fourth-down attempt that saw Aaron Rodgers hit Watson for a 39-yard touchdown. That score tied the game and set things up to go into overtime.
Bland’s other big completion came in overtime, when Allen Lazard blew past the rookie for a 36 yard catch-and-run on third down. Bland slipped early in the play and fell down, giving Lazard an easy catch with room to run. That play set the Packers up for the game-winning field goal.
It was far from Bland’s finest game, and he gave up two especially costly plays. It’s hard to stomach, but these are valuable teaching moments for the young corner, who has played well overall relative to his expectations.
LB Damone Clark
Damone Clark made his debut a week ago and ended up seeing a heavy workload at linebacker when Anthony Barr got hurt. With Barr out for this game, Clark seemed to be in line for another busy day. However, Dan Quinn ended up rolling with Micah Parsons at the off ball linebacker spot next to Leighton Vander Esch for most of the game.
Clark only played on seven defensive snaps, second lowest on the team. Instead, he saw a large workload on special teams, with 20 snaps there. Between defense and special teams, Clark tallied two tackles on the day.
LB Devin Harper
Devin Harper is on the injured reserve.
TE Peyton Hendershot
Peyton Hendershot has been a fun story, going from undrafted free agent to consistent role player as the third tight end in this offense, but it’s time to talk about his penalty issue. Hendershot was flagged for unnecessary roughness on a punt play against the Packers, a wholly avoidable foul.
That brings Hendershot up to five penalties on the year, tied with Terence Steele for second most on the team. Remember, four of Steele’s penalties came in Week 1. More than that, though, is Steele has played on more than three times as many snaps as Hendershot. The same goes for Tyler Smith, who leads the team in penalties. Hendershot is producing penalties at an astronomical rate relative to how many snaps he plays in a game, and it needs to be cleaned up yesterday.
S Markquese Bell
With Malik Hooker back in the lineup after sitting out the last game, Markquese Bell was inactive for this week.
RB Malik Davis
With Ezekiel Elliott missing his second consecutive game, Malik Davis once again got plenty of burn as the secondary running back behind Tony Pollard. Davis was only on the field for a total of 11 snaps, fourth fewest on offense, but he totaled five carries for an impressive 38 yards. It was another solid day for Davis, whose solid play will certainly become a talking point this offseason when decisions have to be made between Zeke and Pollard.