The game against the Green Bay Packers is behind us, but there is still something about what went down that doesn’t sit right about the ability of the Dallas Cowboys. It has nothing to do with the failure to exorcise the demons of the one they call Aaron Rodgers who has defeated the Cowboys in eight of his last nine games. It has nothing to do with blowing a golden opportunity to move closer to the Philadelphia Eagles for the top spot in the NFC East. Sure, both of those would’ve been great.
This pain cuts a little deeper as it represents something we’re all too familiar with. The Cowboys' propensity for untimely letdowns. It was a letdown in the form of the defense struggling to stop the run and the offense being unable to do enough to get the job done. It’s the same reason they lost to the San Francisco 49ers last year in the playoffs, and it’s the same reason they lost to the Los Angeles Rams in the playoffs of 2019. It doesn’t matter how good we think this team is, these two elements come back to haunt us.
There has been a lot of talk about the difficulties the defense has had in stopping the run, but something that is kicked aside is the disappearing offense. It’s actually really easy to give them a pass. After all, against the Packers, they scored 28 points. How can one legitimately complain about that? But when you look closely, there were cold spells and wasted opportunities, and the offense, while good, still was non-existent at certain points in the game.
Why does this happen? Is Kellen Moore not designing good enough plays for his group to be successful? Are the wide receivers just not creating enough separation? Or does this fall on their quarterback, Dak Prescott, who is not making the right decisions or delivering enough good throws?
Inquiring minds want to know, so we are going to take a deep dive at every single Prescott pass and try to get some answers.
A rough start for the Cowboys' offense as they went three-and-out. Prescott only threw two passes and both were off-target. He never looked to his right, threw high to a wide-open Tony Pollard, and completely whiffed on his final pass, throwing the ball into no man’s land.
(3 plays, 1 yard, punt: Prescott 0/2 for 0 yards)
Another three-and-out for the offense. The Cowboys had some missed opportunities. The play design was great, but the Packers' defense was pesky. They got away with a jersey grab on Noah Brown that slowed him down on a deep crossing route. Prescott also had CeeDee Lamb wide open on a nice inside-out play, but Packers defensive tackle Kenny Clark got in Dak’s face causing him to throw the ball out Lamb’s feet.
(3 plays, 4 yards, punt: Prescott 0/2 for 0 yards)
The Cowboys put together a great touchdown-scoring drive on this possession. The play design offered many options for Prescott to throw the ball, but he played it very conservatively on this drive. Of his nine completions, only one of them went for over seven yards, and that was the 21-yard completion to Lamb on the free play when the Packers jumped offsides. Prescott made quick decisions and was on target, but there were more appealing options downfield. Dinking and dunking seemed to help his confidence after the first two three-and-outs.
(17 plays, 83 yards, TOUCHDOWN: Prescott 9/10 for 55 yards and a TD)
The Cowboys wasted a great opportunity to put the Packers in a 14-0 hole midway through the second quarter by throwing a pick in the endzone. Prescott was looking for Lamb over the middle, but Schultz hadn’t cleared out the safety enough to give Dak an open target. This was questionable play-calling as the spacing was rather congested, bad execution as Schultz wasn’t able to go to the right spot, and lack of recognition from Prescott not realizing the safety hadn’t cleared. It was just bad, bad, really bad.
(3 plays, -1 yard, interception: Prescott 0/1 for 0 yards and an INT)
The Cowboys followed up one drive-ending interception with another when it was deja vu all over again. Everyone remembers the pick when Lamb didn’t “cross the face” of the safety, but even before that, there were bad plays. Prescott threw high to Pollard in the flat and then again to Gallup on a slant.
(8 plays, 17 yards, interception: Prescott 0/3 for 0 yards and an INT)
For those keeping score at home, if you remove the Cowboys’ touchdown drive, Prescott was a combined 0/8 for zero yards and two interceptions on the other four drives to start the game. For the better part of a half of football, Prescott was not playing well.
Enough of that, let’s get to some good stuff.
It’s unclear why it takes a free play or the two-minute offense for Prescott to cut loose, but when he does, man, it’s a sight to see. This drive was quick, but super fun to watch. Prescott was decisive with his throws and put the ball in a perfect spot on a couple of slant routes, one to Lamb and one to Gallup. Prescott also delivered one of his best throws in the game when he fit the ball in a tight spot to Schultz. Dak capped things off with a touchdown pass to Schultz with just eight seconds left in the half. The play-calling was outstanding and it was near perfection from Prescott.
(8 plays, 66 yards, TOUCHDOWN: Prescott 5/7 for 55 yards and a TD)
This drive was quick and ugly. Dak avoided getting sacked in the endzone for a safety but followed it up with a bad play. He passed on a wide-open Schultz that would have been a first down and instead opted to throw it to Noah Brown. Unfortunately, the pass was low and behind Brown, forcing him to fall to the ground to catch it. He couldn’t get up in time to get the yards needed for the first down, and just like that it was time to punt.
(3 plays, 7 yards, punt: Prescott 1/1 for 3 yards)
After the special teams forced a fumble on the ensuing punt, the offense was back in business, and they didn’t waste any time either. Prescott only threw two passes on this drive, but one of them was a thing of beauty when he threw Lamb open for a 30-yard gain. Pollard took a draw in for a touchdown two plays later and just like that the Cowboys were back on top.
(4 plays, 45 yards, TOUCHDOWN: Prescott 1/2 for 30 yards)
The high point in this game came when the Cowboys scored back-to-back touchdowns in the third quarter to go up 28-14. They overcame an intentional grounding penalty that got them behind the sticks with some great passes from Dak. He hit Schultz and Lamb over the middle on consecutive plays to get out of that hole, and then followed it up with another fantastic deep left pass to Lamb. It’s hard to explain, but Prescott just looks like an entirely different quarterback when trusts himself to make those deeper throws.
(7 plays, 86 yards, TOUCHDOWN: Prescott 3/4 for 61 yards and a TD)
The passing game went stale when they tried to operate out of 13 personnel and chew some clock. The Packers gambled and went one-on-one with the wide receivers and the Cowboys weren’t able to do much with it. The offense tried to manufacture yards with a quick pass to Gallup out of a running formation, but the defender was right on top of him.
(8 plays, 25 yards, punt: Prescott 2/4 for 9 yards)
After the Packers tied it up, the Cowboys' offense needed to come up big and finish this thing up with a game-winning drive, but as we know, it didn’t go down like that. After a first-down run that only picked up three yards, Prescott missed a wide-open Pollard in the flat and instead forced the ball to a covered Noah Brown. Then, on a crucial third down, Prescott tried to go deep to Gallup, but the Packers defender impeded his path and Gallup was not able to adjust to the ball.
(3 plays, 3 yards, punt: Prescott 0/2 for 0 yards)
There was not much to see on this drive as the Cowboys only had 16 seconds to work with, so there is no point analyzing these passing plays.
(3 plays, 19 yards, end of regulation: Prescott 1/2 for 9 yards)
The overtime drive was a mixed bag as there were some fantastic plays with a couple of misreads sprinkled in. First off, Prescott was right on the money and completed a couple of outstanding bang-bang completions, one to Lamb, then another to Schultz. The incompletions hurt though as Dak had a couple of plays where he had a receiver open over the middle of the field, including the final fourth-down play, but Prescott just didn’t see it. The play-calling was brilliant on this drive and Dak was still pretty good, but even despite some unfortunate officiating, the Cowboys still had a chance to put this game away and didn’t.
(9 plays, 40 yards, turnover on downs: Prescott 3/6 for 40 yards)
What do we see when we look closely at the passing game? The first thing that jumps out is that there are a lot of options for Prescott. The movement, the spacing, it’s very accommodating for the quarterback. CeeDee Lamb is sometimes questioned for not being a true no. 1 wide receiver, but there was a lot of good film in this game that indicates otherwise. Prescott targeted him a career-high 15 times in this game, and to be honest, it still wasn’t enough as he was repeatedly open.
The separation from the receivers was fine. Even though you don’t see dynamic footwork with Lamb (as we did with Amari Cooper), he possesses a suddenness that somehow always gets him open. Gallup seemed a little stymied by the shell coverage and he wasn’t creating much separation, and Brown did a good job finding creases. Schultz is a masterful mind-changer at the top of his routes which always has the defender leaning the wrong way. That’s why he’s open even though he always has a defender in close proximity. Schultz remains a valuable weapon when Prescott is quick with his decision to get him the ball.
What moves the needle the most is Prescott. When he’s comfortable and in a rhythm, he’s fantastic. When he seems rattled and doesn’t trust what he’s seeing, he often misfires. To be fair, he did have two interceptions that were due to his receivers not being where they were supposed to be, so that can create some trust issues. This is something that can be strengthened, and there is nothing we’re seeing that tells me Kellen Moore is not setting this team up for success or that they are desperately missing a route-running separating receiver.
What do you think? Where is your mind at when it comes to the Cowboys' inconsistencies in the passing game? For a complete video breakdown of all of Dak Prescott’s passing attempts, check out this video.