2022 has been a good year for the Dallas Cowboys. After losing their star quarterback to an injury back in Week 1, no one would have thought that the Cowboys would hold a 12-4 record heading into the new year. As the Cowboys say goodbye to 2022 and look ahead to a potential deep postseason run in 2023, we take a look at three New Year’s resolutions for Dallas’ offense.
1) Stop running the ball so much on first down
In their win over the Titans, the Cowboys ran the ball on first down an astonishing 19 times. On those 19 carries, they generated just 33 yards, an average of 1.7 Y/A. 12 of Dallas’ 19 first down runs went for one or fewer yards, forcing them in 12 situations of second and nine or longer.
On first and second down, Dallas registered a negative EPA/Play, -0.36, when running the football.
Very worried about the Cowboys run game folks pic.twitter.com/oZ4KuooPZf— Tom Downey (@WhatGoingDowney) December 30, 2022
Dallas was able to still pull out a victory despite their lack of early-down success against Tennessee, but that won’t be the case if they continue this trend in the playoffs.
For a Cowboys’ offense that has struggled so much to take care of the football, early-down success is vital. Running the ball up the gut consistently for one or two yards on first down is not a recipe for success in the postseason.
Most teams the Cowboys will face in the playoffs have talented pass rushes, and giving them as many chances to get after the quarterback as they gave the Titans will almost certainly not work in Dallas’ favor. There is a time and place to run the football, but the Cowboys need to change things up and not be so predictable on early downs.
2) Continue to feed CeeDee Lamb
Since Dak Prescott returned to the lineup in Week 7, CeeDee Lamb has been one of the most productive receivers in the NFL. In the 10 games since Prescott’s return, Lamb has caught a remarkable 69 passes for 898 yards, an average of 13 Y/R, and scored six touchdowns. Over Dallas’ last six games, Lamb has recorded at least 100 receiving yards in a game four times and has hauled in 78% of his targets.
Lamb has been Pro Football Focus’ third-highest-rated (90.7) receiver since Week 7 and is second in the league in receptions (44) and receiving yards (556) since Week 12.
I’m glad we can all recognize that Ceedee Lamb is a true WR1 pic.twitter.com/8p7TRQNF7W— Kaz⚡️ (@KazTooWavy) December 21, 2022
We’ve seen CeeDee Lamb turn into a star this season, and the Cowboys have done a good job making him the focal point of their offense in the past few weeks. Lamb has been targeted at least six times in Dallas’ last six games, receiving double-digit targets three times over this span. As the Cowboys head into the playoffs they need to keep finding ways to make sure they get Lamb involved on offense and give him every opportunity they can to make an impact on the game.
3) Figure out a way to clean up the mistakes and miscues
Since Dak Prescott’s return, the Cowboys have done almost everything well on offense. They’ve led the league in average PPG, (35.1) and have gone over 385 total yards of offense in eight of their last 10 games. The one thing the Cowboys have not done well is take care of the football. Dallas has turned the ball over 21 times this season, 16 of which have come since the Cowboys got their signal-caller back.
Speaking of the quarterback, Prescott has thrown a career-high 14 interceptions this year in just 11 games. The 29-year-old has thrown two or more interceptions in four of Dallas’ last six games and the team’s inability to protect the football has been a major cause for concern.
While 14 picks in 11 games is an eye-opening stat, if you have watched the Cowboys play it’s pretty easy to see that at least half of the interceptions are not really Prescott’s fault. Whether it’s a ball bouncing off a receivers hands, like we saw last night, or miscommunication on who is running what route, the Cowboys have consistently found ways to generate miscues on offense that have resulted in turnovers.
If the Cowboys don't turn the football over on offense, it’s going to be hard for any team in the postseason to stop them. On the flip side, if they continue to give the opposition two or three gifts a game, it’s hard to see them moving on any further than the Divisional Round.