With one week remaining in the regular season, the now 12-4 Dallas Cowboys still have a shot at an NFC East division title. All they would need to do is defeat the Washington Commanders and have the Philadelphia Eagles lose against another divisional foe, the New York Giants. Considering how things have looked up until recently, it seemed like the Cowboys were destined to be the fifth seed. With a little help, the top seed in the conference is still in play. That top seed would be a nice get, considering Dallas is 8-1 at home in 2022. Regardless of how things pan out, that fifth seed is Dallas’ floor, and that is not bad position to be in.
How Dallas got to 12 wins this past Thursday wasn’t pretty at times, but they won the game nevertheless. It was clear that the Titans, had nothing to play for as they had their sights set on their divisional foe, the Jacksonville Jaguars. Even with a lot of their regulars not playing in Week 17, the Titans are coached by Mike Vrabel, who is a Bill Belichick disciple. This means that they will play you tough and make you earn it, which they did on Thursday night.
Before heading to Week 18, let’s hand out this weeks grades.
Dak Prescott has a season high in completions as Tony Pollard sits out
With the Cowboys clinching a playoff berth ahead of Week 17, there was little reason to play a nicked up Pollard. A thigh injury was the cause for Pollard to miss this past week’s game and thankfully it appears that the injury is a minor one. Owner Jerry Jones, shared his thoughts on the matter as well:
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on @1053thefan said RB Tony Pollard (thigh) could return next week to play at Washington. “I’m not as concerned about that injury.”— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) December 30, 2022
With Pollard not expected to be out long term, it was up to Ezekiel Elliott and Malik Davis to handle the ground game. Davis showed some juice and led the team in rushing on just 10 carries with 39 yards. Better days are ahead for this undrafted rookie. Elliott, on the other hand, had nearly double the carries of the undrafted rookie but two less rushing yards. With an average of just 1.9 yards per carry, it was a very inefficient performance for the three time Pro Bowler. He did salvage the day with a touchdown, but that was about it from Zeke.
With the ground game underwhelming, it was up to franchise quarterback Dak Prescott to pick up the load on offense. Prescott, threw for nearly 300 yards and had two passing touchdowns in the game. He also completed nearly 71% of his passes as well. Unfortunately, Dak threw two interceptions with one of them that most certainly was not on him. Tight end Peyton Hendershot, who for an undrafted rookie has had a quality season, couldn’t haul in a pass from Prescott. That pass was bobbled by Hendershot and ended up in the hands of Titans defender, Kevin Byard. Byard, would be the recipient of another Dak Prescott interception which on this sequence was a bad play by the franchise quarterback. Aside from that, Prescott notched another quality performance.
Speaking of quality performances, CeeDee Lamb caught 11 balls for 100 yards, and Dalton Schultz hauled in seven passes with two of them resulting in touchdowns. The passing attack carried the offense to another victory, and kept their hopes alive for a division title.
Against a journeyman quarterback, the defense has a solid performance
Journeyman Josh Dobbs, not Malik Willis, would start for the Titans at quarterback. Dobbs was recently acquired from the Detroit Lions practice squad and would have just over a week to acclimate with his new teammates. Coming into the game, the Cowboys had to have been licking their chops knowing the quarterback situation for the Titans. To the surprise of many, Dobbs played admirably given the circumstances. He would pass for 232 yards and would also throw one touchdown as well. Unfortunately, his lone interception in the game would be a costly one as Nahshon Wright would pick him off with just under six minutes remaining in the game. With that performance from Dobbs against a quality Cowboys defense, it should get some him looks in backup quarterback market in the upcoming offseason.
It wasn’t Dallas’ best performance on defense, but they did have a solid game overall. Dante Fowler Jr. and Donovan Wilson would tally the only two sacks for the Cowboys, but Dobbs was under duress a good portion of the evening. The run defense held Tennessee to under 100 yards. Aside from a Treylon Burks’ 20-yard run, the Titans ground attack was held in check. This came with Derrick Henry not playing, but it was still good to see the defense faring better against the run.
With a pass defense that has had some issues in recent weeks, they fared better against a proven veteran in Robert Woods and a highly-touted 2022 first-rounder, Treylon Burks. This duo was held to 105 yards on nine catches. DaRon Bland once again had another quality performance and Nahshon Wright is starting to flash ability as well. Bland and Wright were inside the top three in total tackles during this game too. With both players still green, there certainly will be bumps in the road but their performances in Week 17 looked promising. They’ll both need to continue to improve, as the playoffs are coming up fast.
The special teams group puts out another quality performance
The most consistent group all season has continued to live up to those expectations after another good game this past Thursday night. Pro Bowl return specialist KaVontae Turpin didn’t break loose for a touchdown this week, but played well in limited action. He tallied three returns for 29 yards with a long of 13.
Cowboys punter Bryan Anger once again wasn’t very busy due to the play of the offense, but all three of his punts landed inside the 20-yard line. Another solid outing for Anger.
Kicker Brett Maher once again had another great game as he made all of his kicks against Tennessee. His official stat line reads, 3/3 on PATs and 2/2 on field goal attempts. The consistency of this unit will need to continue as they will be needed at some point during the post-season to make a big play. They are very capable of this, and aren’t a liability. It’s always nice to not have to worry about special teams come post-season.