The Dallas Cowboys put on a clinic Monday night with a great performance by their offense and defense. The offense scored 31 points (it would have been 35 if it wasn’t for four missed extra points), and the defense didn’t allow the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to score until the final play of the third quarter.
It was a fantastic game with many great plays, but what did this group do that allowed them to be so successful? We’ve taken down some notes as we look for what we can learn after further review.
We can’t say enough about the great job Dak Prescott did. If you want more details, on Wednesday we discussed how this advanced level of play could add some excitement to the Cowboys' playoff puzzle.
But there was plenty of credit to go around on offense. Almost equally as impressive as Prescott’s elevated play was how well all six of the Cowboys’ offensive linemen played. They started off using Connor McGovern as a fullback and in jumbo packages, but an injury to left tackle Jason Peters caused McGovern to play left guard with the rookie Tyler Smith sliding over to left tackle. It didn’t matter. This group didn’t miss a beat. We’ve seen the Cowboys’ line play well at times the year, but never have we seen all of them playing so well at once.
Tyron Smith had his best game of the year, escorting edge rushers way beyond where Prescott was residing. The interior didn’t budge, despite a very powerful interior line from the Buccaneers' defense. It was quite impressive watching Tyler Smith hold up repeatedly against a stout Bucs interior defensive line as oftentimes Vita Vea or Rakeem Nunez-Roches went absolutely nowhere when locked up against the rookie. Play after play, Prescott had plenty of room to step up in the pocket.
Watching the rookie Tyler Smith completely neutralize Pro Bowler Vita Vea was one of my favorite Tyler Smith moments of the season. Tyler is one strong dude! Troy Aikman wouldn't shut up about how well he has played for Dallas, and he's absolutely right. pic.twitter.com/5ytPP0Tx8X— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) January 19, 2023
Going back and looking at all the great passing plays from this game, you can’t help being impressed by the collective performance of the entire unit. And it never got old hearing Joe Buck constantly mention the great protection.
Dak Prescott was phenomenal on Monday night, but he couldn't have done it without protection. The Cowboys' offensive line was sensational at creating a clean pocket for Dak over and over again. pic.twitter.com/Y0AQ2GHoSv— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) January 19, 2023
The running game still had some issues, but they did have a little bit of success on the outside. The offensive line did a good job of pulling and leading the way for Tony Pollard. And more importantly, the tackles and tight ends were much improved in securing the edge so defenders weren’t able to shoot the gap and take a free shot at the running back and blow up the play. It wasn’t much, but this is something they can build on. Forget the up-the-middle-pounding stuff with Ezekiel Elliott, the bread and butter is with Pollard skirting to the outside.
The Cowboys running game still had its struggles, but they had a good game plan for getting Tony Pollard space on the outside. That's where the magic happens.— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) January 18, 2023
1. Secure the edge
2. Push out the outside defender
3. Let Pollard do the rest pic.twitter.com/5BUqQdrlkk
Dak was the offensive MVP, and it should be no surprise that Micah Parsons was leading the charge defensively. Statistically, it was a modest performance. He had a sack, a couple of batted balls, and a nice tackle for a loss. But on tape, the guy was everywhere. He was generating so much pressure and that spelled trouble for the non-elusive Tom Brady.
If they kept stats on how much "havoc" a player wreaks, I'm pretty sure Micah Parsons would lead the league in it. He was abusing the Bucs' offensive line on a regular basis pic.twitter.com/w4c3xlSERR— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) January 18, 2023
One could argue that safety Jayron Kearse was the defensive star in this one as he was making plays left and right, including a pick of Tom Brady in the Bucs' end zone. That was such a momentum swinger. It was a great performance from all the Cowboys safeties as Malik Hooker was making tackles, Kearse was breaking up passes, and Donovan Wilson was doing Dono things.
I can't remember when the Cowboys have had a safety group this good. Short on cornerbacks? No problem. Just insert a lengthy safety with great closing ability. And it's not an accident they all have a wingspan of a pterodactyl. pic.twitter.com/osQR39cOp5— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) January 19, 2023
But one of the biggest surprises came from the play of second-year safety/corner Israel Mukuamu. A corner/safety at South Carolina, Mukuamu has played sparingly this season getting some safety reps. On Monday night, he was baptized by fire being asked to cover Bucs shiftiest receiver, Chris Godwin. And the youngster didn’t disappoint.
When the Cowboys made Nahshon Wright inactive, I was puzzled by what their plan was, but then it become evident that hybrid free safety/corner Isreal Mukuamu was the reason. He played a career-high 37 snaps and did a great job closing on the shifty slot WR Chris Godwin. pic.twitter.com/k9SLlMClug— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) January 18, 2023