It was a close thing, but thanks to a last-minute drive, the Dallas Cowboys earned a 20-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. They did so behind the calm and assured quarterbacking of Cooper Rush, the emergence of a wide receiver to help take the pressure off CeeDee Lamb, a fierce but occasionally error prone defense, and the leg of Brett Maher. While the stats are not all good, they are certainly better than we saw in Week 1. A lot better. Here are some that stand out, along with what they may tell us.
Cool efficiency to start, cooling off later
Rush came out and led the team on two consecutive touchdown drives in the first quarter. As a result the Cowboys never trailed in the game, and after the first score were only tied for the final 3:45. He finished the first half with 12 completions on 18 attempts for 162 yards and a TD. That was padded a bit by the Tony Pollard catch of a pass behind the line that went for 46 and set up the second touchdown, but it all counts.
After the half, however, Rush was less effective. In the second stanza, he only completed seven of his 13 attempts for 72 yards as the offense struggled to move the ball. He did manage to avoid any interceptions despite a few close calls. That was a crucial, if perhaps underappreciated, element of this win.
Now Rush has a rather unique claim to fame. In his six years in the NFL, his team has never lost a game with him starting. Sure, that is just two games and most of his time has been backing up Dak Prescott. But, hey, it’s a fact.
Now the staff and fans have to feel a lot better with him filling in while Prescott recovers from the broken bone in his throwing hand. Perhaps he can continue to play well and reduce the pressure to rush Prescott back. Pun intended.
WR2 may have emerged
Noah Brown led all receivers with 91 yards, after doing the same in Week 1. He also scored his first touchdown of his career. With Michael Gallup still recovering from injury, the emergence of Brown as a key cog in the offense is significant. He takes some pressure off CeeDee Lamb, who had a good game himself against the Bengals with seven catches for 75 yards.
Now, once Gallup returns, the starting trio looks set. While the rest of the wide receiver room was missing in action, with only Dennis Houston even seeing a target, the duo of Lamb and Brown provided just enough. The team still needs one of the group of Houston, Simi Fehoko, and Kavontae Turpin to get involved. Hopefully that will come, and if not, it is looking like it will not be many more games before Gallup gets in the mix.
The return of Money Maher
One of the many, many complaints we had during the offseason was the lack of urgency about finding a kicker. After the Jonathan Garibay and Lirim Hajrullahu experiments failed, the team brought back Maher, who inspires a certain amount of PTSD for fans.
Maybe the team is onto something in going with Maher, who had a good season with the New Orleans Saints last year. He is now perfect on the young season, and clinched the win with a 50-yard field goal that just snuck inside the right upright. Oh, and all of his kicks so far this season have been from 50+. He has always had plenty of leg, and so far the accuracy has been there, too. We may still hold our breath anytime he goes out to kick, especially if the game is on the line, but give credit where it is due. It will always be better to avoid those situations. When the team can’t, let’s hope Maher continues to perform.
You may be surprised or even shocked to know that Cincinnati had a worse game than Dallas. The visitors were flagged seven times while the Cowboys drew just five (although they did have two on one play, which only counts as one in the stats. Another flag was declined, which also doesn’t show up.)
That is not the whole story, however. Dallas tended to have bigger penalties, giving up 45 yards to just 35 for the Bengals. And when they happened was an issue.
Anthony Barr late hit = new set of downs— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) September 19, 2022
Donovan Wilson late hit = new set of downs
Devin Harper neutral zone infraction = new set of downs
Three stupid mistakes after stopping the Bengals on third down. Why do we insist on doing this to ourselves?
The gross number is an improvement, but as Danny points out, the Cowboys extended Cincinnati drives and gave away points with three of the infractions. It’s a step forward, but there is still work to be done.
Joe Burrow was the most sacked quarterback in 2021, and he is on his way to repeating that dubious title. He has a shaky offensive line ahead of him, which hardly helps.
Still, you never complain when you get six sacks in a game, and in one this close, it is just another stat that was crucial to the win. Micah Parsons had his second consecutive two-sack performance, and Dorance Armstrong also doubled up. The first was no surprise, but Armstrong may turn out to be the answer at RDE we were hoping for. Leighton Vander Esch chipped in one that was the “clean up” variety, and Dante Fowler got credit for the sixth when he knocked the ball out of Burrow’s hand. Further, on many passes, pressure hurried Burrow and resulted in incompletions. This pass rush may be exactly what we hoped they were.
Even though there is reason to feel better about the offense with Rush behind center, this team will still have to depend on the defense to carry a big part of the load. Sacks are just one part of that.
I’m going back to Danny for another very useful tidbit.
We are all still feeling uneasy because the Cowboys have only scored 2 TDs so far this season, but we should also take a moment to appreciate that the Cowboys' defense has only allowed 2 TDs so far this season against two of the top-scoring offenses from last year.— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) September 19, 2022
To belabor the obvious, when you hold your opponent to under 20 points, you have a much better chance of winning football games. The Cowboys have now done that in both games this season, and one of them was against Tom Brady. That seems pretty good.
Let’s dig a bit deeper into that. While the performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers required some stops in the red zone, the defense did a very good job keeping the Bengals out of it. They only got in once, on their lone TD. Admittedly Dallas only got there twice, but both trips also resulted in seven points. Overall, the team did not look nearly as vulnerable between the 20-yard lines as they did a week ago. The only allowed 89 yards rushing and limited workhorse back Joe Mixon to just three yards a carry. It put all the pressure on Joe Burrow, and he only managed 199 yards through the air while also surrendering those six sacks.
This was a strong defensive performance. The Bengals don’t appear to be as good offensively so far as they were when they got all the way to the Super Bowl last year. But this is still encouraging. Now we see if they can maintain things.
In past seasons, the Cowboys have often been on the short end of the stick in starting position for their drives. But this game, they had an average starting position of their own 27, while the Bengals started on average from their own 22.
Each team had ten possessions in the game, so the math works out pretty easily. Dallas netted a 100 yard overall advantage. This is one place where special teams have a big role, and is often overlooked. This week, Turpin let all the kickoffs go over his head. Last week he brought four out, and none got back to the 25. He also fair caught most of the punts. He did have one nice 20-yard return to help the hidden yardage total. Meanwhile, Bryan Anger pinned the Bengals inside their 20 on four punts.
It all adds up, and in a close game like this, it all mattered. Now Dallas goes to visit the undefeated New York Giants. The Cowboys open as the underdog. It is going to take more good than bad again next week if they are to remain in the race for the NFC East.