The Dallas Cowboys 2022 regular season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers most certainly did not go as planned. After what appeared to be a fairly decent opening drive that resulted in a Brett Maher 51 yard field goal, it turned ugly the rest of the way as no other points on the evening were scored. Not only were there no more points scored by Dallas in week one, they were the only NFL team without a touchdown score on Sunday, which is utterly embarrassing considering how elite the offense was in 2021.
Although the final score showed Tampa Bay 19 and Dallas 3, that does not tell the entirety of how the Cowboys played in week one. To put it mildly, Dallas as a whole looked bad.
Offensive Grade - D
Aside from the first drive of the game that led to the only points in the game for the Cowboys, the offense looked a mess. Sure, the Tampa Buccaneers defense is a pretty good defense, but Dallas made them look that much better. Dak Prescott looked like a player who needed to get some work in during the preseason. Prior to the injury that ended his night, Prescott completed 14 of 29 passes for 134 yards. Not a great stat line for a quarterback who not so long ago signed a contract with an average annual payout of $40 million.
Speaking of big ticket players in the offensive unit, Ezekiel Elliott averaged 5.2 yards per tote which is a nice change of pace from what we’ve seen recently from him, however, he only saw 10 touches. Averaging over five yards per carry should’ve equated to more carries, but this was not the case. Not only was Ezekiel Elliott effective in the running game, but he can pass protect unlike many backs in the league which is a major asset. Tony Pollard. on the other hand. looked out of sorts in pass protection and was not very effective in the game as a whole.
The uninspiring receiving group was well, uninspiring, which could partially be due to the struggles from the quarterback. The offensive line as a unit had a mixed night, with the primary downside being a host of penalties on the unit. One pleasant surprise from the offensive line group was by the play of rookie left tackle, Tyler Smith. Considering the hand he was dealt, Smith played well enough at the position in week one. The future for Smith seems to be off to a tremendous start. Aside from the performances of Ezekiel Elliott and Tyler Smith, the offense as a whole was a inadequate. Only Dalton Schultz and Noah Brown added much on that side of the ball.
As much as the letter F feels just right when grading the offense, we’re going to go with a D because Tyler Smith played much better than expected and if the offensive coaches could’ve gotten out of their own way, Ezekiel Elliott would’ve filled the stat sheet in a much bigger and better fashion.
Defensive Grade - B+
Speaking of the letter D, the defensive side of the ball performed as expected by many, which was very well.
What could’ve been more like a 49-3 kind of defeat, ended up being 19-3 because of how well the defense played. Holding the greatest of all time, Tom Brady, to only 212 yards passing and one touchdown with a quarterback rating of 53.4 cannot be understated. As a reference point, an average NFL quarterback typically comes in at around 50 and as we know, Tom Brady is far from average as quarterback. Kudos to the Cowboys defense by keeping Tom Brady in the average category in week one.
Micah Parsons, is as advertised - a unicorn. Parsons ended his evening with two sacks and looked like the best player when he was on the field. Donovan Wilson also had a nice interception of Brady as well. Not only did Parsons and Wilson play well, the entire unit looked very impressive except for one area.
The defense could have received an A grade in week one, but instead earned a solid B+, and the main reason that the defense did not receive an A grade is because Leonard Fournette rushed for 127 yards on 21 carries for an average per rush of six. Other than that, Dallas’ defense played well and gave the offense so many opportunities to stay in the game, You really couldn’t ask for much more, given the circumstances.
Special Teams Grade - C
There were some question marks coming into this season regarding this unit, primarily at the kicking position. Brett Maher was a late addition to the team simply because the names Dallas had brought in were not consistent enough to be given the keys to the starting kicker job. Maher came in, performed well and took back his old job that he had during the 2018 and 2019 seasons, respectively. The sample size thus far is a very small one due to the lack of opportunities that were given to him. Maher was given one field goal attempt and it was an absolute no doubter from 51 yards out.
One area in the special teams unit that was a essentially a lock to be solid was the punter position which is currently held by Bryan Anger. Anger came off of a career year which ended with his first career Pro Bowl selection, as well as a nice new three-year, $9 million contract. In week one of 2022, Anger had five boots for an average of just a shade under 51 yards and two of them went inside the 20.
A newer name to the NFL scene, KaVontae Turpin, in his first career NFL game didn’t exactly light up the stat sheet, but he also didn’t have any major mental errors while returning both kickoffs and punts. Still, field position was not really gained or flipped in the return game.
This special teams unit came in with rather modest expectations and they were right on par with those modest expectations so their grade is a C. It’s not a bad thing, and it’s not a good thing, but the positive after week one, unlike last season’s week one, it didn’t cost the Cowboys a chance at a victory.