After week one, the Dallas Cowboys’ 2022 season outlook seemed bleak. The offensive line was struggling, the team was devoid of reliable pass-catchers, and Dallas would be without their QB1 for the foreseeable future.
Flash forward two weeks later, the Cowboys are now on a two-game win streak, Prescott could return as early as week five, and the defense is winning them games. It has been an up-and-down season, and fans still don’t know what to make of this team. So, with another week of football in the books, what did we learn from Dallas’ 23-16 win over the Giants?
3 statistical takeaways from the Cowboys' victory
The Pollard-Zeke combo is working to perfection
The Cowboys' offensive line has impressed this season. As the ninth-highest graded front five by PFF pass blocking grade, few expected this inexperienced group to look as formidable as they have. But they still struggle against the run, falling as the 20th best offensive line by their run blocking grade.
But their inability to give Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott space has not prevented the two running backs from picking up yards. As of now, the Cowboys rushing attack currently ranks:
- 11th by rushing yards per game
- 10th by rushing yards per attempt
- 9th by rushing EPA per play
- 6th by PFF rushing grade
And keep in mind these stats are being accomplished with a below-average run-blocking offensive line and against teams that are selling out to stop the run with Rush at QB.
With 5.6 yards per attempt and 3.6 yards after contact per attempt, Pollard has looked like the better running back this season, falling as the seventh-best RB by PFF grading. But this is not to diminish what Zeke has accomplished, as his 4.5 yards per attempt and 2.9 yards after contact per attempt would be his best finish in those categories since 2019 if they hold. The Cowboys owe these two a debt of gratitude for keeping the offense afloat with Prescott out, and it should only get better when their QB1 returns from injury.
rushing yards over expected through week 3: it's khalil herbert and d'andre swift on top just as we all expectedhttps://t.co/guTeZziDiQ pic.twitter.com/04mtyWzuYZ— Tej Seth (@tejfbanalytics) September 27, 2022
Dallas might have found the solution at kicker
One of the more publicized stories during training camp was the kicking dilemma. The two players that Dallas brought into camp to compete for the starting job were Jonathan Garibay and Lirim Hajrullahu. But after a couple of weeks, it became evident that neither was the answer.
Enter Brett Maher, who wasted no time proving he possessed the best leg on the roster. And since then, it has been an impressive display from the 32-year-old kicker.
Maher has been perfect on the season outside of a 59-yard miss at the end of the half during the Giants game. Granted, it is a small sample size, but he has hit all four of his PAT attempts, which is a change of pace from Zuerlein’s 2021 campaign. Additionally, he is one of four players who has already hit three 50-yard field goals on the season. And possibly even more impressive, given Maher’s track record, he has yet to miss from within 40 yards. Zuerlein in New York this season has already missed a PAT and is 3-for-4 within 40 yards.
Also, while it might not be the most relevant test of a kicker’s ability, Maher deserves credit for his kickoffs. At 73.1 yards per attempt, only Thomas Morstead is booting it further on kickoffs than Maher. He is one of two kickers in the NFL this season to post zero kickoff returns, minimum of two attempts. Again, kickoffs are a very small aspect of the game, but he still deserves credit for eliminating the possibility of a return.
Do you still have to hold your breath every time Maher lines up for a FG? Sure. But he has looked significantly better this season than in the past.
Mike McCarthy knows he is coaching for his job
You are the head coach of an NFL team, leading your squad in front of thousands of opposing fans who want to see you fail. The score is tied in the fourth quarter, 13-13. Your defense has been wreaking havoc all night, and they will assuredly be able to muster up another stop. Your offense, led by a backup QB, is at the opposing 41-yard line and throws an incomplete pass on third and four to bring up fourth down.
Do you go for it, punt, or settle for a field goal?
The analytics tell you to go for it, but with a backup QB, few would argue against a field goal given Maher’s impressive start. Even a punt backs the Giants into their own territory needing to drive the length of the field, which they have struggled to do. Well, McCarthy saw this same situation and kept his offense on the field. The fourth down would end up being a completion to CeeDee Lamb, who eventually caught the TD just three plays later. That score ended up being the difference in the game. McCarthy was even more bold when he went for it on fourth and two in the first quarter at his own 44-yard line against Cincinnati, which ended in another Dallas touchdown.
McCarthy has been nothing but bold this entire season, despite not having his QB1 at the helm. With seven fourth-down attempts in 2022, only three teams have kept their offense on the field on fourth down more than Dallas this season. And at four conversions, they are tied for the third most successful fourth down attempts through three weeks. So, not only has McCarthy been bold, but it is working and helping this team win games without Dak under center.
Fresh off their second straight win, the Cowboys will now set their sights on the Washington Commanders. The good news is there are a lot of positives that Dallas can take away from this win and carry into week four. That would require Mike McCarthy and the coaching staff to build on another upset victory. Can McCarthy continue to walk the tighrope that he entered the season firmly set on? Only time will tell.