Sometimes after a game, we dig into the stats and numbers to figure out what went wrong. Thankfully, this time we are studying what went right as the Dallas Cowboys got their second win in a row, this one over the New York Giants in a rather entertaining 23-16 MNF appearance. The best part may be that there are signposts for how this team can continue to do well, both in the immediate future and the long term.
Let’s use two tweets to present a capsule version of what may have been the most important element of the win.
Biggest reason the Giants lost their 7th straight Monday Night Football game: the Cowboys defense generated its most QB pressures since 2017.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 27, 2022
Daniel Jones was pressured a total of 24 times Monday night, the most by a QB this season, and the 2nd-most over the past two seasons.
The Cowboys offensive line allowed just 4 pressures against the Giants per PFF— Tom Downey (@WhatGoingDowney) September 27, 2022
If you can protect your own quarterback, you can win NFL games. If you can constantly harass the other QB, you can win NFL games. If you can do both at the same time, you can win a lot of NFL games.
We all expected that the pass rush for the Cowboys this year was going to be good. Those expectations are being exceeded already. Part of the reason we anticipated the impact it could have was Micah Parsons. In this game, he did not get credited for a sack and was visibly being held on many plays that somehow escaped the notice of the officiating crew, which went selectively blind on a lot of plays. He was coming off a week of illness, but still was credited with two QB hits and was in Daniel Jones’ face on a lot of other plays. It is reasonable to think he will be back to his old seek and destroy ways next week against the often lead-footed Carson Wentz. Wentz also holds on to the ball far too long, which should have all the pass rushers salivating.
But this was DeMarcus Lawrence’s coming out game for the season. He led the team with three of their five sacks and added three more hits on Jones. Also pitching in a sack apiece were Dorance Armstrong and Donovan Wilson. After three games, Dallas now leads the league in sacks with 13. And they are getting them from a variety of players.
Dallas Cowboys sack leaders through Week 3:— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) September 27, 2022
- Micah Parsons, 4
- DeMarcus Lawrence, 3
- Dorance Armstrong, 3
- Donovan Wilson, 1
- Leighton Vander Esch, 1
- Dante Fowler, 1
While we are all pulling for Parsons to win Defensive Player of the Year honors, having a list like that is much better than one player just dominating. Suddenly the friendly rivalry between Parsons and Lawrence is heating up, while Armstrong has entered the chat. It should be noted that Armstrong also had a huge play with his block of the first field goal attempt by Graham Gano.
Now opponents have to pick their poison, especially when the top three are all on the field at once. And if they somehow manage to hold them off, others are coming to exploit things. Constant pressure that gets home a lot is the best way to limit opposing offenses. Dallas is now in the top ten for points allowed, another good sign for the future.
Calm, cool, collected Cooper
After already singing the praises of Cooper Rush, this is the flip side of the pressure situation as well. Despite the well-documented problems the Cowboys have faced with their offensive line, they protected him very well against the Giants. Additionally, he was getting the ball out quickly. Still, this was an impressive job from the shuffled line, and we saw the debut of Jason Peters at left guard. While he only logged 14 snaps, there was certainly evidence that the team may be on to something with him lined up alongside Tyler Smith. The biggest play of the game, Tony Pollard’s 46-yard run, went right between Peters and Smith.
Look to see Peters ramp up over the coming weeks. While it came later than it should have, it is shaping up to be a huge signing by Dallas.
And don’t forget the rest of the line. Tyler Biadasz, the always excellent Zack Martin, and Terrence Steele got the job done as well. We might not like how they got here, and depth is still a concern, but this cobbled together group might just turn out fine. They are an often overlooked part of Rush’s perfect record as a starter in the NFL.
The ground attack makes a big contribution
We may finally be seeing the two-headed monster at running back we have longed for. Tony Pollard, aided greatly by that long jaunt, had 105 yards rushing. Ezekiel Elliott was not bad at all, adding 73 yards and a one-yard TD plunge, plus a very nice 27-yard gain on a 3rd and 12. Elliott is quietly flirting with a 1,000 yard season and Pollard is not far behind. The game saw several two back sets for the Cowboys, and they often worked well.
Give some credit to Kellen Moore for creating an impressive balance between the run and the pass. And that offensive line is definitely part of the equation. This is important while Rush is the starter, keeping some of the pressure off him both in giving him time when he throws and in making him carry less of a load for offensive production. Things should just get better when Dak Prescott returns.
The gelling of the receiving corps
For a while, a terrible drop by CeeDee Lamb looked like it could help lead to a defeat for the Cowboys. Redemption stories are great, and he engineered one with his stellar one-handed grab for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. He set that up with a 26-yard grab to get to the one on the previous play. He finished the game with eight catches for 87 yards and was by far the most targeted receiver. It took a few games, but he is growing into the WR1 job.
Meanwhile, Noah Brown continued to be an integral and productive part of the passing game. He contributed five catches for 54 yards, and like Elliott he is on track to eclipse 1,000 yards, in his case by a good margin.
The game was without Dalton Schultz, recovering from his injury against the Cincinnati Bengals. But while they didn’t have a lot of catches, rookies Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot filled in nicely, both as receivers and blockers. Hendershot made a splashy entry into the passing game with his 29-yard grab, the longest completion of the night for Rush. It could be a sign that he will make big contributions if he gets the chance.
In his first start of the season, Rush only completed passes to five different receivers. Against New York, that went up to seven. Again, this may be a testament to Moore’s play-calling as well as Rush growing more adept in his role with more reps on the field. Now the Cowboys still look forward to the return of Michael Gallup, who was held out one more week as he ramps up for game action. When he is on the field at last, the trio of him, Lamb, and Brown looks far more impressive than we could have imagined.
Penalties were again a problem, except when they weren’t
Once again, Dallas had far too many flags, with eight being accepted and more either declined or offset. New York did no better, drawing eight accepted penalties themselves.
The officiating was objectively uneven and at times egregiously bad,
Defensive holding?— Joey Hayden (@_joeyhayden) September 27, 2022
NFL says neither. Apparently. pic.twitter.com/DCb1FruD96
It affected both teams, frankly. Still, we have to wonder how much better the Cowboys could do when they don’t draw drive-killing flags.
Well, it turns out we don’t have to wonder. Dallas won the game with three consecutive scoring drives in the second half. And what did they not have during those 29 offensive plays? Yep, not a single flag. They got away with one where the refs missed Hendershot not being set for the snap, but that stretch without getting called for an infraction was the longest stretch of good offensive ball they have played this year.
It showed they can play fairly clean football. They still have a lot of work to do, but this was definitely encouraging.
That was true of the game overall. The offense came through when it mattered, the defense was strong, and even the special teams contributed with Armstrong’s kick block and a tantalizing 28-yard punt return from KaVontae Turpin that flipped the field and nearly was much more. The game may have been more about exposing the Giants than beating a good team, but to succeed in the NFL, you have to beat the teams you should on paper. Now they face one more in the Washington Commanders. Take care of business and they will sit at 3-1, a better record than almost anyone expected when Prescott was hurt.
This is definitely a year when we needed to see something from the Cowboys before we started to believe in them. The past two games, they have given us that. Keep this up, and we may have some playoff football to anticipate.