When looking at the numbers from a game like the Dallas Cowboys had against the Minnesota Vikings, it is hard to even figure out where to start. Almost every statistic from this game is positive for the Cowboys, and most of them are superlative. There is not a lot to learn from this, except for an intriguing hint about some plans for the rest of the season. So let’s just sit back and revel in the goodness.
First, though, this little thing from the snap counts
Obviously the offensive line had a great day, with the running game clicking and no sacks allowed. But in the second half, we saw something many of us have been waiting eagerly for. Jason Peters came in for 20 snaps, sending Connor McGovern to the sidelines. But instead of Peters going in at LG, he lined up at LT and rookie Tyler Smith went back to the LG position he had practiced through most of training camp before Tyron Smith was injured. It certainly looks like the staff wants Tyler to be ready to work full-time at guard once Tyron is back.
Tyler may be the future at LT, but right now, moving him back to LG allows the Cowboys to put not only their best five linemen on the field, but to put them in the best position to succeed. It is possible, although a bit speculative, that they might have Peters start at LT in a couple of weeks to help get Tyler locked in at guard for the playoffs. And when Tyron is ready to play, the staff has a decision to make as to whether he goes in right away or Peters keeps the starting job to let Tyron ramp up a bit with limited reps. In either case, the Cowboys will have one of the best backups for the position in the league.
With having to shuffle things due to Tyron’s injury and the depth issues that other injuries have caused, this has been a remarkable job by the staff in managing things. The level of success to date is more than we could have hoped. Patience has been key. They gave Peters plenty of time to first get back into football shape after he was signed and then to recover after he was nicked up. Now they are finally getting things where they want as the team gets to the final drive for the playoffs. This is good. Very good.
On to the fun stuff.
Dak was nearly perfect
The numbers themselves are impressive. Dak Prescott went 22 for 25 passing, for 276 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, and no sacks. He also chipped in 16 yards rushing, including one very nice eleven-yard gain. You can’t ask for more, especially when the running game is also working very nicely. If he can keep coming out and playing this well from the very start, this team is going to be in the hunt for the number one seed if the Philadelphia Eagles stumble even a little bit.
This video clip from our Dan Rogers is a nice way of illustrating just how good Prescott was.
I don't think people realize just how on-target Dak Prescott was in this game. Zero errant throws. He wasn't even close to being picked off.— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) November 21, 2022
Here are all three of his incompletions from the Vikings game. Don't blink. It's over quick. pic.twitter.com/33yXvl4Y6p
Spreading the ball around
For the past several games, there has been a huge concern about the lack of viable targets for Prescott. They got that fixed in a hurry this game, as he (and Cooper Rush) completed passes to ten different receivers. Tony Pollard, CeeDee Lamb, Noah Brown, and Michael Gallup all had catches of 19 yards or more, so it wasn’t just short stuff, either. The distribution was great as well, with four players getting four or more targets, but no one more than six.
Suddenly defenses have a problem trying to cover everyone. And with the Odell Beckham rumors swirling, this could get even better just in time for the playoffs.
They finally figured out how to maximize the running backs
The running game contributed 151 yards to the impressive 458 total gained. And the backs scored all four of the Dallas touchdowns. This was a nearly perfect usage of the two weapons the Cowboys have to deploy (plus a little contribution from backup Malik Davis in garbage time.)
Pollard was the star of the game. He had 80 yards on the ground, including three runs of 17 or more yards. He really showed out as a receiver, however, with touchdown catches of 68 (the longest play of the year for the Cowboys) and 30 yards, and a final tally of six catches for 109 yards.
Let’s be honest. Ever since Pollard joined the team, we have been longing for them to fully utilize his impressive skills. This was extremely welcome. It also is very late. This is Pollard’s contract year, and the way he has been coming on this year, he is likely going to price himself out of Stephen Jones’ pie. That is a concern for the offseason, however. We just need to hope that Kellen Moore keeps dialing Pollard’s number up the rest of the way this season.
Just a cursory look at what Ezekiel Elliott did may seem unimpressive, even desultory. He only had 42 yards rushing on 15 carries, a paltry 2.8 yards per attempt. That misses the real contribution, his proven ability to get one or two yards when the team really needs it, including two touchdowns against Minnesota. The best illustration of that is the first touchdown of the game. Pollard had two of his long runs in the drive, so when the Cowboys got a first and goal from the two-yard line, they gave Pollard a chance to cap it off. Twice. He only got one yard on the two rushes, leaving Dallas with a third and goal from the one. Moore (or Mike McCarthy) sent Elliott in, and while he only got about a yard over the goal line, that was all they needed.
The idea of using Elliott and Pollard in a 50/50 split on running plays is exactly what the team did, with each having 15 carries in the game. It worked brilliantly. Keep that up, and prosper.
Pending the outcome of MNF, which is almost certainly not going to change things, the Cowboys lead the NFL in sacks with 42, six more than the second place New England Patriots. They maintained their lead with a ferocious pass rush that garnered seven sacks of Kirk Cousins, spread among five players. Micah Parsons and Dorance Armstrong each had two. Parsons is building his case to be DPOY, and Armstrong continues to be much better than anyone expected after he had to step up following the exit of Randy Gregory. That has turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Dallas as Parsons and Armstrong have been joined by DeMarcus Lawrence, Dante Fowler, Donovan Wilson, and rookie Sam Williams in getting three or more sacks this year. Outside of the aberrant performance against the Green Bay Packers, teams just have had no way to stop the swarm of rushers the Cowboys send at them.
This was a case study in how effective the pass rush is. The Vikings had 159 yards passing, an impressive showing in itself for the defense, but netted only 110 due to the 49 yards lost to sacks. If you can hold an opponent to that little through the air, you can win a lot of games. If you do one other thing, which Dallas did.
The run defense finally stood up
After getting gouged for over 200 yards on the ground in the past two games, the worry coming into this game was whether Minnesota could exploit the run defense again. They didn’t, only getting 73 yards. A big part of that was that they only ran the ball 17 times, but the run defense was on point from the start. The first series of the game saw them stop the run twice to set up the third and three that resulted in the Parsons strip sack. From there on the game dictated that the Vikings could not lean on Dalvin Cook. That brings us to the next thing.
When your defense is getting stops, the offense is putting up points, and special teams are getting their job done, they all feed off each other. The offensive efficiency built a lead that just kept growing, allowing the pass rush to tee off successfully, and Brett Maher just needed them to get close enough to kick from midfield to add three points.
This was a true case of a team hitting on all cylinders, and this was no little four banger. They were a big, roaring V8 in this game. It was a record setting performance as the 40-3 score was the biggest margin of victory on the road in Dallas history.
The Cowboys may have a killer short yardage play
This is an interesting note from the game.
Four Cowboys tight ends played at least 15 offensive snaps in Sunday’s win over Vikings. Team unveiled a grouping with all four on field at same time (Sean McKeon at fullback). Used on five plays, including both of Ezekiel Elliott’s 1-yard TDs and a third-and-1 conversion. pic.twitter.com/G87sGw8jQZ— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) November 21, 2022
This is a wild looking personnel package, and just one more wrinkle for opponents to have to plan for. We love the plays that result in chunk gains, but those short yardage successes are vital as well. Put Elliott behind all that beef and good things ensue, which is one more reason to love the one-two punch at running back.
One last thing about the play counts
Things were so out of hand that both teams began pulling starters in the fourth quarter, and for a change, the Cowboys actually let the backups play. By the end, it looked like a preseason game, with Rush throwing the ball to Davis and Jalen Tolbert while Josh Ball and Dakoda Shepley got some reps blocking. That is valuable game time experience for the backups. Rush went four for five passing, which is nice to see. At least it is nice for him, as he is likely to get a nice little payday from someone in the offseason. Quality backup QBs are at a premium in the league, and he may be the best there is this year.