Warning: Studying the stats and numbers from the horribly inept performance of the Dallas Cowboys against the Washington Commanders can lead to depression, rage, drinking, burning various members of the staff in effigy, and existential angst about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coming up in the playoffs. Proceed with caution.
Yes, it was that bad. It is hard to recall such a pitiful set of stats, especially with Dak Prescott healthy. Let’s start things off with him and his baffling struggles.
QB1 was off - way, way off
This is a stunningly ugly stat line. 14 completions on 37 attempts for a miserable 38% completion rate, the worst of Prescott’s career. He had just 128 yards with one touchdown and a horrible interception. His longest completion was for just 15 yards. That was the longest play from scrimmage of the game. It’s not that he wasn’t taking shots down the field. They were just repeated misses.
This was so uncharacteristic it begs the question of what caused it. Several people thought that he was just jumpy and playing a bit scared.
Yeah. Dak didn't play well.— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) January 9, 2023
For whatever reason, he did not look comfortable at all in the pocket.
I saw him drifting back and fading away WAY too often yesterday. https://t.co/vrG8awRCbM
The numbers may not be able to measure this, but they certainly don’t contradict the idea. The loss of Tyler Biadasz and the subsequent shuffling of the offensive line could have been the root of the offensive ineptitude on Sunday. It is not much of a leap to think Prescott was fully expecting his protection to break down and was going into escape and evade mode too quickly.
The best illustration of how bad his performance was on two consecutive plays. Early in the second quarter from the Dallas 24-yard line, he threw a pass intended for Michael Gallup directly to Kendall Fuller, who dropped an easy pick six. Then on the next play, he threw what looked like the exact same pass on a nearly identical play, and this time Fuller held on to score a defensive touchdown. This was staggering. We can’t know if this was a case of really bad play-calling by Kellen Moore or a strange sort of arrogance from Prescott. In any case, it really should have never happened and seemed to break things.
He also had precious little help from the rest of the offense.
Running into a wall
While the 118 net yards through the air was terrible, the running game may have been more impotent. They only had 64 yards. 16 of those were from Prescott as he scrambled away from pursuit, and 19 belonged to Malik Davis, who came in after the coaches waved the white flag and pulled the starters. If you do the math, it means an incredibly futile game for both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. Pollard would get only 19 yards on seven carries, an average of 2.4 yards per attempt. Elliott was somehow worse, totaling just ten yards on eight attempts, for a miserable average of 1.3.
As we have seen for several weeks, early down runs were worthless to the team and put them behind schedule repeatedly. Of course, given how poorly Prescott was functioning, early down passes didn’t help either. A vivid illustration of just how useless the ground game was is the list of the ten longest plays for the Cowboys. With the exception of a nine-yard scramble by the quarterback, they were all short passes. The team got nothing from the ground game. That also points to the problems of the offensive line.
It was not much better for the receivers
Prescott missed on a ton of his throws, but there were some drops as well. It combined for a bunch of bad stat lines for the players trying to catch passes.
- CeeDee Lamb caught five of seven targets for 52 yards and the lone touchdown of the game
- Dalton Schultz was the intended receiver on nine throws, hauling in four for 33
- T.Y. Hilton, who again saw relatively few snaps, caught two of four passes for 19, with one clear drop
- Noah Brown and Gallup had identically bad stat lines, one catch on six targets for ten yards apiece, yet they continued to be the intended receivers
- Jake Ferguson caught the only ball thrown to him for just four yards
- Elliott and Pollard had no catches, although they only had three total passes directed their way, and Elliott did not even turn around to look for one of his targets
The connections just were not there.
Special teams started the debacle
John Fassel must be apoplectic about his unit. Bryan Anger just dropped the first punt attempt of the game, gifting the ball to the Commanders on the Dallas 20-yard line. They only needed two plays to score first. KaVontae Turpin muffed a punt that went right into the arms of Christian Holmes at the Cowboys’ 15. A defensive stand would lead to a missed field goal, but the error was just one of the factors that seemed to rattle the team. Both of those came in the first quarter and helped to set the tone of the entire fiasco. And Brett Maher missed his only kick, the PAT on the lone Dallas touchdown. The coverage units had a poor day as well, giving up a 27-yard kickoff return and a total of 55 yards in punt returns. The closest thing to a bright spot was two Turpin kick returns for a total of 51. It may have been the worst special teams performance of the year.
The already short handed cornerback unit saw DaRon Bland leave the game with an injury. That led to recently signed Trayvon Mullen playing 53% of the defensive downs. It is worth noting that, with Nahshon Wright only on the field 33% of the time, the Cowboys were not in their usual nickel package nearly as much as normal. It appears they tried to use their safeties in an attempt to cover for the short-handed cornerbacks. It actually was not as bad for the secondary as it could have been as they only surrendered 169 yards passing. But that was against Sam Howell, so a grain of salt is advisable here. Tom Brady is going to be a very different issue in the wild card round.
Pass rush mediocrity
It wasn’t totally absent with three sacks, but it was still a far cry from the way the Cowboys terrorized opposing quarterbacks in the early and middle parts of the season. The Commanders had a beat up offensive line, so that must be taken into consideration. One troubling thing was that Micah Parsons clearly was fighting through injury, at one point holding the hand he had to wear a club on the previous game. Too often, the defense has seemed to depend on Parsons putting on a cape and carrying them. If he is not 100%, this could be a major harbinger of bad things to come.
The Cowboys were just -1 in turnovers, but that doesn’t count the Anger punt miscue which was a major swing in field position. It was just another place they came up short.
Third down fails
It is obvious that if you can’t run or pass effectively, you aren’t going to move the sticks often. The Cowboys were four of eighteen for just 22.2% on third down, and only made ten first downs the entire game. Somewhat surprisingly, Washington was even worse at 21.4%, but got more firsts on early downs to have a better day offensively.
Of course, on a day when everything else went wrong Dallas would lose the penalty battle as well. They drew six flags to only two thrown against the Commanders.
It is not a pretty picture. It is downright ugly, in fact. The worst thing is that this leaves the Cowboys with so many issues they have to set right if they are to have a chance of defeating Tampa Bay.