Well, there is no way to go but up. That’s how bad the Dallas Cowboys were against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their first game of the 2022 NFL season. The approach of the team this year was to bet on a lot of things going just right. Instead, we saw more than one worst case scenario. Every week during the season, we’ll dig into stats and numbers from the game to see what they can tell us. The story this week is very, very bad.
Pending the outcome of MNF, the Cowboys are the only team in the NFL to not score a touchdown in the first week. The. Only. One. Last season, they led the league in many offensive categories. We knew that the offensive line and receiver corps were going to be something of a work in progress, but this was simply abysmal. It was arguably the most inept offensive performance at home with Dak Prescott at quarterback they have ever had. And other stats just clarify this depressing picture.
0 red zone trips
It may go hand in hand with the first number, but it is truly indicative of just how impotent the offense was. The Cowboys’ deepest penetration of the game was the Tampa Bay 32 - and that was on the opening drive of the game. They only got into Buccaneers territory two other times, with drives that ended on the 41- and 42-yard line. Even for a team with so many untested players it had to rely on, that is incredibly inept.
Dak Prescott’s numbers
PFF does nice little charts. If you have young children around, have them avert their eyes.
Dak Prescott struggled with accuracy throughout the night in the Cowboys 19-3 loss to the Buccaneers.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 12, 2022
48.3% comp pct (2nd-lowest of career)
-16.4% CPOE (3rd-lowest)
24.1% tight window (3rd-highest since 2019)#TBvsDAL | #DallasCowboys pic.twitter.com/wZqnC2Opll
It paints a convincing picture of Prescott really struggling all game until he fractured a bone in his passing hand. After a pretty good drive to start the game, he seemed lost and hesitant out there.
I don't know how much of this is just a lack of chemistry or bad footwork, but Dak was off with his ball placement on Sunday night. pic.twitter.com/i2OgZ80oHZ— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) September 12, 2022
Many will now be hoping that the team can manage to find a win or two before Prescott returns to try and salvage the season. But if he is the same as he was against the Bucs, that is highly unlikely. It is hard to imagine he has just fallen off a cliff, but something was decidedly wrong with him.
Now the team will likely turn to Cooper Rush to carry things while Prescott recovers. He was hardly great, but his stat line was better than Prescott’s. He still was unable to do much. Fun times are coming.
CeeDee Lamb was a non-factor
With so little experience around him, Lamb is the clear WR1. He did not look the part at all. He was targeted eleven times, but only came away with two catches for 29 yards. However, it is hard to put all that on him, as many of the throws that came his way were into double and even triple teams, or were just off the mark. Lamb also drew a flag for offensive pass interference that was obvious. As with Prescott, he had pretty much the opposite of what we were hoping for.
Now the team may be tempted to try and get Michael Gallup back as soon as possible. That would be a mistake. Make sure he is ready to go physically before risking him. Noah Brown was actually good as the WR2, leading the team in yards with 69 on five catches, including the longest play from scrimmage on the night. Dalton Schultz also did well, with a team high seven catches. But with Lamb mostly erased on the night, they were hardly enough to make up the difference.
It was a huge problem last year, and it was again against Tampa Bay. Almost all of the flags were on the offense. The biggest offender was RT Terence Steele, who drew four, three of them false starts. He almost single-handedly killed one drive with three penalties on it alone.
This one has to be laid at Mike McCarthy’s feet. He seems dismissive of the problem when he does speak to it. Obviously nothing has happened to improve. That was just one of the many ways the offense seemed horridly prepared for this game. It is notable that the defense played much better, not just in avoiding penalties, but in holding the Buccaneers to just 19 points and just one of three touchdowns in the red zone. Against Tom Brady, that is noteworthy. It says something about Dan Quinn. We may well be seeing the beginning of an in-house competition for who will be the head coach next year.
The running game did little, but might have to carry the offense now
Dallas only had 71 yards on the ground, but that was on only 18 attempts all night. There were times they seemed to have something going with Ezekiel Elliott, who had a quite respectable 5.2 yards per carry. But being behind led Kellen Moore to go to the pass, and that just was not working. Tony Pollard was unimpressive, only gaining eight yards on six carries. The idea of using both backs at the same time may die a quick death. With Rush the likely starter now, the team may have to go back to feeding Zeke out of necessity.
The defense bottled up Brady, but let Leonard Fournette run free
Overall, it seems the defense did its part in holding the Buccaneers to 19 points, but the vulnerability to the run reared its ugly head again. Fournette amassed 127 yards on 21 carries, a 6.0 average, While the red zone performance was good, they let Tampa Bay move with too much ease outside the Dallas 20. Perhaps they will be able to do better when they are not focused on quarterbacks with the ability of Brady. But this was not a great way to start.
Micah Parsons is still Micah Parsons
It is hard to find good things from this travesty of a game, but the Lion still roared at times. He had two sacks of Brady and was flying around the field the way we love to see. But those were the only two sacks against an offensive line that had its own issues.
Another bright spot was the play of Leighton Vander Esch, who led the team in tackles. Still, that is cold comfort.
Injuries on top of injuries
The revamped offensive line took a hit almost immediately when Connor McGovern left. He is going to miss at least a game with a high ankle sprain. Dak Prescott looks destined for IR with his fractured hand that requires surgery. Jayron Kearse suffered a knee injury, but it is hoped to be a sprain pending an MRI. And Tarell Basham left the game with a thigh injury. Already the injury bug is decimating the roster. Health is always crucial in the long grind of an NFL season, and the Cowboys are already behind the eight ball.