The Dallas Cowboys capped off the 2022 regular season in disappointing fashion with a 20-point loss to the Washington Commanders. This makes the third time in six tries that Mike McCarthy’s Cowboys have lost to the Commanders by 20+ points. The first two came in 2020 in the “Dak injured + horrible defense” year. The Cowboys didn’t have that excuse this time. In fact, it was Washington’s third-string quarterback who was providing most of the excitement in this one.
Sunday’s game certainly isn’t how this team would have liked to end the regular season and there was a lot of bad football on display, but was there anything meaningful we could learn? Here are some observations that stood out after taking another look at the game film.
This team is starting to become an enigma. They start out as defensive studs with a “stay afloat” offense, only to kick it in high gear once Dak Prescott returned. With no. 4 behind center, the team turned into an offensive juggernaut.
But a juggernaut they were not in this one. The Cowboys' offense went into hiding as it was the worst performance we’ve seen in a long time. There were a lot of things that didn’t go right for the offense, but one thing that just keeps showing up is their complete lack of a running game. Since Terence Steele was lost for the season, the Cowboys have suddenly forgotten how to run block and can’t make positive gains to save their lives. Ezekiel Elliott has seen a decline in efficiency in each of the last six weeks. Just when you think he can’t go any lower, he does.
But it’s not just Zeke that is struggling to gain yards as the elusive Pro Bowler Tony Pollard can’t get anything going either.
The Cowboys have now gone five-straight games where neither Zeke or Pollard have had a game with at least five yards per attempt. That’s maddening.
We have been trying to figure this out for weeks now, and things keep getting worse. Against Washington, the Cowboys' offensive line was being overpowered on a regular basis. While it’s evident the team misses Steele quite a bit, the absence of Tyler Biadasz hurt as well because backup center Connor McGovern struggled against the Commanders' strong interior defensive line.
5th-round rookie John Ridgeway abused Connor McGovern and Tyler Smith was consistently late to the second level. These things combined closed up any running lanes through the middle. pic.twitter.com/Z8I6KIWa7P— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) January 10, 2023
Overpowered, out-finessed, take your pick. The Cowboys' offensive line was manhandled, and it wasn’t just the lesser experienced guys who were getting beat.
And it wasn't just the younger offensive linemen who were struggling. The vets were getting overpowered at the point of attack. You know it's not going to be a good day when Zack Martin is being tossed to the ground. pic.twitter.com/DSWyrpRSUD— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) January 10, 2023
When the running game isn’t working, that puts the strain on quarterback Dak Prescott. While it’s been hit or miss over these last several weeks, Dak usually musters up some great play-making ability to get them out of holes. Not this time.
Prescott had one of the worst games of his career. From a completion percentage perspective, it was his absolute worst game. He looked uncomfortable all night, constantly throwing into coverage. We are very curious to see what the All-22 film reveals to see what his options were because either the spacing was dreadful or Dak just kept making the wrong reads. He made so many throws where a defender was right there closing in on his target.
Without seeing the All-22 to check spacing, it's hard to know for certain where the blame goes, but Dak Prescott forced a lot of throws into coverage. Whether it was bad reads or a slight hesitation, every pass was met with a defender on the receiver's hip. Not good. pic.twitter.com/AUMAFoNUTK— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) January 9, 2023
One thing that isn’t unclear is that Prescott was misfiring quite a lot. Even when he had a chance to make a completion in tight coverage, oftentimes his throws were just out of the reach of his receiver. He was missing left, he was missing right, and he was throwing high a lot. Even on his lone interception that was returned for a touchdown, Prescott had an outside shot at completing the pass for a first down had he thrown to Noah Brown’s outside shoulder. Instead, he puts it on the inside and the Commanders' cornerback is gifted a defensive touchdown.
I can't recall seeing a game where Dak Prescott was so off-target with his throws. He had throws in front of his receivers, throws behind his receivers, and throws too high. His ball placement was quite frightful. pic.twitter.com/NQkF8MsZxd— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) January 9, 2023
The Cowboys' defense wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible either. They did have a tough time containing the rookie quarterback Sam Howell. Washington had 151 rushing yards, but some of that came from their QB scrambling as their running backs only averaged 3.2 yards per carry.
The extra running didn’t create a lot of pass-rushing situations for Dallas. They got three sacks on the night, but at no time were they making things difficult for the rookie. One area of concern was the team’s coverage ability opposite Trevon Diggs. On Sunday, they gave former second-round pick Treyvon Mullen a shot on the outside. It didn’t go well.
I applaud the Cowboys for exploring their options at cornerback, but Trayvon Mullen is not the answer. It didn't matter if he pressed or stayed back, the receiver kept blowing by him. pic.twitter.com/nt54ixfuMj— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) January 10, 2023
The team reverted back to second-year corner Nahshon Wright (who had an interception last week). While Wright is not the liability that Mullen is, he’s a lanky player with very little twitch, and the lack of suddenness can get him into trouble with quicker receivers.
The Cowboys have done a good job putting Nahshon Wright in good situations, but one of my biggest fears is that teams will eventually challenge his change of direction. We got a taste of this on Sunday, and rest assured Tom Brady will feast on this! pic.twitter.com/yI0kXnZ94Q— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) January 10, 2023
The Cowboys' special teams weren’t great in this one. They opened the game with a penalty by reserve safety Tyler Coyle. Free agent returner KaVontae Turpin had his second muffed punt of the year as the ball caromed off his facemask and into the arms of a Commanders player. And even Brett Maher did something he hadn’t done all season, he missed an extra point.