The Dallas Cowboys got the 27-13 win against the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night, but it didn’t feel all that satisfying. The Titans rested a lot of their starters and the Cowboys committed three turnovers. That’s not ideal. However, before we give them a final grade for their performance, let’s take a closer look at some of the action that went on in this game. Here are some key things worth noting after further review.
What do we make of Dak?
The wild adventures of Dak Prescott continue as he had his sixth-straight game with an interception, and it was the fifth time this season he’s thrown multiple interceptions in a game. It’s weird because Dak isn’t a reckless quarterback who throws a lot of picks. In fact, in his previous three seasons, he’s only thrown multiple interceptions four times. Over his last eight games, he’s done it five times!
A lot has been made about Prescott’s interceptions and there’s a lot of blame deflecting, which is appropriate considering there is a lot of receiver deflecting going on. Dak’s throw to Peyton Hendershot in the Titans game was an absolute strike, but in the stat book, it goes down as a pick, which has led to a lot of misleading narratives about Prescott’s 2022 season.
Prescott does make mistakes. He’ll make the wrong reads, he’ll panic and break the pocket, and his eyes will sometimes get locked in on a target (as it did with Kevin Byard’s second pick that actually was Dak’s fault).
But what is also important is what else goes on in the game. Against the Titans, Prescott was really good. In Thursday’s game, Kellen Moore did a great job with the spacing of his route concepts forcing the Titans defenders to pick their poison, but credit Dak for making good reads and delivering some perfectly located passes. He and CeeDee Lamb were putting on a pitch-and-catch clinic of great routes with perfect passes.
This judgment of Dak isn’t based on the results of the game, how many yards he has, or how many picks he throws. It’s based on film breakdown of how he performs in each play. Does he make good decisions? And does he make good throws?
Here is the 2022 assessment...
Ever since the Green Bay game, Prescott has mostly played extremely well with one bad game coming against Houston, but even amidst all the bad stuff in that game, he still managed to orchestrate a fantastic fourth-quarter game-winning drive.
The missing piece
Fans have been calling for help at wide receiver all year as the Cowboys' depth for one reason or another has been underwhelming. Free agent James Washington has been hurt, but once he returned, he’s done next to nothing. Third-round draft pick Jalen Tolbert doesn’t even see the field. And second-year receiver Simi Fehoko remains on injured reserved.
Fortunately, the Cowboys appear to have made the right decision to add the missing ingredient to their offense. Last week in his debut, T.Y. Hilton caught a 52-yard bomb on a third-and-30 play, but on Thursday, he was doing the little stuff to keep the chains moving.
T.Y. Hilton's playing time went up from 16% to 28% this week. He caught four of five targets, three of which were third-down conversions. He and Dak continue to build chemistry and he's proving to be a nice addition to the Cowboys' offense. pic.twitter.com/RPyKSoQZNK— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) December 30, 2022
With Hilton’s reps increasing, Noah Brown’s are dropping as the Cowboys look for the right balance to give their offense what it needs.
The ongoing contributions of DeMarcus Lawrence
Like Prescott, DeMarcus Lawrence is another polarizing Cowboys player. And like Dak, a lot had to do with how much he makes versus the contribution to the team. And again like Prescott, the verdict should always be, he’s just really good at football whether we’re able to see it or not. On Thursday, we saw it. And we saw it a lot.
DeMarcus Lawrence is such a great football player. Not only is his motor off the charts, but his awareness of what is happening on any given play puts him in such a great position to be soooo disruptive. We are so lucky to have him! pic.twitter.com/XFJkEglJfy— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) December 30, 2022
Tank's selection to the Pro Bowl is well deserved even though he once again doesn’t have stellar sack numbers (only six on the year). Lawrence’s true value isn’t something that can always be measured in the stat sheet, but on film, it’s as clear as day.
DeMarcus Lawrence was ALL OVER THE PLACE last night, but one of my favorite plays was when he rushes from the left side, but then sprints 30 yards down the field to make a play. Chestnut houses this if Tank doesn't slow him down. RELENTLESS! pic.twitter.com/7DQxo51uuQ— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) December 30, 2022
A promising rookie
The Cowboys have had some injuries to the defense as of late, but their depth has filled in nicely. Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins were hurt in the Texans game, but veteran Carlos Watkins is quietly doing a good job in the middle. Anthony Brown got hurt against Green Bay, but Nahshon Wright is starting to show up (we’ll get to that in a minute).
But another player who isn’t getting enough credit is rookie linebacker Damone Clark. After missing the first half of the season recovering from spinal fusion surgery, he’s now a regular fixture in the team’s defense. He has two forced fumbles this year and has now breached the top 10 in tackles this season for this Cowboys team. He is doing a better job reacting to the play and he explodes through the gap. And when he gets locked in on you, he doesn’t miss.
26 linebackers were selected in the 2022 NFL Draft.— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) December 31, 2022
Here is the list of LBs who have at least 40 tackles this year without having a single MISSED TACKLE:
1. Damone Clark
That's the list. pic.twitter.com/0aMBBhAo51
As Wright as rain
As a fellow Oregon State Beavers alum and self-proclaimed Nahshon Wright “hater”, it brings me great pleasure to report how well the team’s second-year corner is doing. In just his second career game with a good dose of reps, he is showing progress. Yes, the Cowboys’ defense did get beat on a deep pass to a fictitious, sounds made-up player named Racey McMath, but that was not on Wright as there should’ve been safety help over the top.
Wright flourishes when he can use his instincts and length to make plays on the ball and he was able to put both to good use on Thursday.
I thought Nahshon Wright did a good job using his length and going toe-for-toe with the WR. Even on the "missed pass inference call" he was in a good position and the arm grab was last second. pic.twitter.com/HA4owvb4QQ— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) December 30, 2022
If there was a complaint about the Cowboys' coverage in this game it’s that their corners were laying back too much. Trevon Diggs was guilty of it once and Wright was often found giving up too much cushion.
I don't know if this was Dan Quinn trying to be safe to prevent against the deep ball, but there was a lot of space in coverage. Nahshon Wright has no chance to make a play with soft coverage like this. pic.twitter.com/oak9qMTtIe— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) December 30, 2022
Overall, it was another solid performance by Wright. With Diggs and Bland holding down two-thirds of the corner duties, it’s good to see the team’s CB3 not being a huge liability.
Not a lot to report here. Brett Maher continues to kick everything through the upright as he’s the NFL’s leader in points this season. He did have a kickoff that went out of bounds so that was weird.
Kelvin Joseph initially got the nod to fill in for Anthony Brown at outside corner, but he was benched in the Jacksonville game. Now, he’s being reduced to a special teams role; however, he’s still finding ways to make mistakes. He was called for two penalties on special teams (illegal block in the back and fair catch interference) and unless he starts fixing these mistakes, Joseph could end up having a short tenure in Dallas.
Just to recap things, look at how much contribution in this game the Cowboys got from their new acquisitions this year...
- Dante Fowler with a huge strip/sack
- T.Y. Hilton making key third-down catches
- Damone Clark tackling everything
- DaRon Bland locking down the slot, and now he’s blitzing
- Jason Peters’ protecting Dak’s blindside in emergency duty
- Tyler Smith’s slides inside and doesn’t miss a beat
- Sam Wiliams keeps body slaming people
- Brett Maher is still awesome
That’s rather impressive. The Cowboys stars will do star things, but getting this much contribution from these other guys? That can be a difference maker come playoff time.