Dallas Cowboys Week 3 PFF review

Well, that wasn't fun. The Cowboys stumbled into an embarrassing loss against the lowly Arizona Cardinals this week, and I'm going to take advantage of that by saying this article's delayed posting was due to the resulting misery. Yeah, that's it...

To be fair, it *is* only one game, and to go a step beyond that it's worth remembering that this can and does happen to many legit contenders. Memorably, the eventual 2022 Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in their third game managed to blunder into a road loss against one of the worst teams in the league, the Indianapolis Colts. Heck, the parallels don't stop there - that defeat came on the heels of the Chiefs handily beating another of one of the worst teams in the NFL (the Cardinals!) in Week 1 and then edging a win against an overall mediocre Charger squad that couldn't get out of its own way over the entire first half of the season. In short, the 2022 Chiefs began their season in much the same way as the 2023 Cowboys, and those Chiefs proved their opening wins were not fraudulent while their defeat was largely just a blip.

It will be on these Cowboys to follow in those footsteps!

Dallas Cowboys PFF grade weekly reviews:
Week 1
Week 2

Let's begin our review!

Dak Prescott - 48.9 grade (81 snaps)

This was a poor week at the office for Prescott despite a rebound in Average Depth of Target (6.3, up from 5.0 versus the Jets) and a still-solid Adjusted Completion Percentage. That was likely first and foremost fueled by 2 turnover-worthy plays, plus taking 2 sacks after only 1 total in the first two games of the season. I will say that PFF QB grading has over the years seemed not context sensitive enough to key factors like great/terrible pass blocking - which comes into play in a game in which an OL is missing 3 key starters - but even if there is a missing adjustment for that this was a poor game for Prescott. With a rebound performance from Gallup (see the WR section) and presumably a return of at least some of the missing blocking, next week versus the tough NE defense should be a better litmus test for good or ill.

Running Backs
Tony Pollard - 72.1 grade (70 snaps)
Rico Dowdle - 75.4 grade (11 snaps)
Hunter Luepke - 83.2 grade (8 snaps)
Deuce Vaughn - NA grade (0 snaps)

We've yet to see even a halfway signature Pollard performance yet this season, but this past game involve a further rebound from his poor first game and points to him likely grading out among the high-end RBs when all is said and done. There wasn't a lot else to take from this group, as it only saw 19 combined snaps beyond Pollard (with Vaughn not even taking the field; both Dowdle and Luepke saw their nice grades fueled most as receivers, with Dowdle breaking some tackles on the way to finding the end zone. So far, the RBs appear more to be complementary pieces for the offense rather than drivers of success, but they also seem suited for their various roles and should be able to thrive if the blocking and passing game get ironed out.

Wide Receivers
CeeDee Lamb - 59.1 grade (67 snaps, 44 route snaps, 7 targets)
Brandin Cooks - 56.9 grade (65 snaps, 39 route snaps, 7 targets)
Michael Gallup - 74.7 grade (56 snaps, 38 route snaps, 7 targets)
Jalen Tolbert - 54.4 grade (14 snaps, 6 route snaps, 0 targets)
KaVonte Turpin - 56.6 grade (2 snaps, 1 route snaps, 0 targets)
Jalen Brooks - NA grade (0 snaps)

Well, Cooks did indeed come back this week, and outside of grades this was a lot more like what Dallas had in mind for the receiver corps. The big story was the reemergence of Gallup, who looked every bit like what he had established himself to be prior to injury. While there were (very) optimistic times in the past that some felt he was or would be a WR1, he does a lot of little things that make for a terrific WR2, most especially his ability to work the sidelines while at times beating defenders even when separation isn't there. If he can keep this up and recover his ability to shake his coverage guy a few times a game on vertical routes, he would be fully back. Beyond him, Lamb had a (for him) quiet day at the office, not bad but not getting open and not being productive enough. Cooks will have to step it up; not only is he not getting open enough, but he also still saw his share of targets this week and mostly failed to convert them. The hope is that this trio, when going well, would provide some combination of two out of three who step it up on any given day, while covering for the missing guy if/when one is out. Dallas essentially did not use its depth receivers this week.

Peeking at what is becoming a usual graphic in this review, Lamb stepped it down a notch while still being firmly planted among the receivers who both get open and are effective with their catching+YAC, while Gallup took a huge step in the right direction, moving up the separation spectrum while leaping from the below-average half of the catching+YAC spectrum to the positive side!


Tight Ends
Jake Ferguson - 68.0 grade (56 snaps, 29 route snaps, 7 targets)
Peyton Hendershot - 59.6 grade (37 snaps, 17 route snaps, 1 target)
Luke Schoonmaker - 36.4 grade (19 snaps, 4 route snaps, 1 target)

First, the good - continuing from last year's take, Ferguson continues to establish himself as everything the Cowboys would like to see from a TE1 who isn't intended as a star. He's actually 9th in overall PFF grade at TE, and while that is mostly founded on his blocking he showed last year than he can be efficient with Schultz-type receiving usage too. While it's early going, Ferguson is putting together grades that look a lot like what Schultz offered...but only after a few years of development. If Ferguson can be Schultz+, well...anyways, the other thumbs up from the TEs came in the blocking department; while it wasn't a banner day, all three were at least solid, and that's something the Cowboys demand and expect. On the negative side, both Ferguson and Schoonmaker had a drop, with the latter's being his only target. Schoonmaker at least has seen very few routes so far this year and thus isn't really letting the offense down as mostly a dedicated blocker; Hendershot, on the other hand, is seeing a steady and okay supply of routes each week, and has done almost nothing with them. Given that he's supposed to offer more in that department, he needs to step it up there soon.

Note: Ferguson has executed the 6th-most run blocks of any TE so far this season, and has parlayed that into the 4th-best TE run-blocking grade!

Offensive Line
LT Chuma Edoga - 67.8 grade (74.0 run/56.1 pass, 81 snaps)
LG Tyler Smith - 84.4 grade (83.3 run/74.1 pass, 81 snaps)
C Brock Hoffman - 54.0 grade (52.1 run/75.9 pass, 81 snaps)
RG TJ Bass - 39.7 grade (48.8 run/33.3 pass, 81 snaps)
RT Terence Steele - 71.5 grade (82.3 run/61.3 pass, 81 snaps)
Tyron Smith - NA grade (0 snaps)
Tyler Biadasz - NA grade (0 snaps)
Zack Martin - NA grade (0 snaps)
Asim Richards - NA grade (0 snaps)

Contrary to some popular opinion, the three-men-down OL did *not* completely fail and demonstrate that the Cowboys have horrible line depth. In fact, while the line certainly wasn't anything to write home about, it did precisely what one would want under the circumstances: it held its own. The headline was Tyler Smith seeing his first 2023 action and looking every bit a potential star in the near future; the extent of what was missing with him out possibly has been underestimated. It was also heartening to see a bounceback day from Steele; he'll never be a high-end pass blocker, but on a normal day he holds up well enough there while bulldozing in the run game. The Cowboys certainly did feel some pressure from the blind side with Edoga in Tyron Smith's place, but he and Hoffman actually filled in more than competently. Bass...well, not such a good showing from him. Hopefully, the Cowboys won't have to put this assemblage to the test too often in 2023.

Award Alert: Tyler Smith took the LG slot on the PFF Team Of The Week.

Interior Defensive Line
Jonathan Hankins - 48.5 grade (35 snaps, 20 run/15 pass rush)
Osa Odighizuwa - 65.1 grade (33 snaps, 19 run/14 pass rush)
Chauncey Golston - 68.3 grade (18 snaps, 10 run/8 pass rush)
Neville Gallimore - 68.9 grade (16 snaps, 8 run/8 pass rush)
Mazi Smith - 42.4 grade (12 snaps, 8 run/4 pass rush)

Dallas's defensive interior continued its stretch of unspectacular performance that still sets up the rest of the defense to make plays. While at first glance one might have expected outright bad grades here - after all, the defense was absolutely gashed on the ground by the Cardinals - but really it was runs to the outside, especially runs extended by bad second-level pursuit and tackling, that did the damage. It's less than ideal for the Cowboy DTs to see more run defense snaps than pass defense ones, but that's how this contest broke. Either by plan or adjustment to game flow, Hankins went from narrow role player to true starter snaps, and somehow it was his pass rush grade that stood out for the better. Golston returned to the interior after a small snap week focused on the edge, and he combined with Odighizuwa and Gallimore to offer a trio of very solid performers inside. Mazi Smith graded as Cowboy NTs often do, but with such a low snap count it's hard to draw much in the way of helpful conclusions. It would be nice to see a few more plays made from this direction!

Edge Defenders

Micah Parsons - 67.9 grade (55 snaps, 26 run/29 pass rush)
DeMarcus Lawrence - 87.3 grade (41 snaps, 13 run/28 pass rush)
Dorance Armstrong - 65.6 grade (21 snaps, 14 run/7 pass rush)
Dante Fowler - 44.2 grade (15 snaps, 5 run/10 pass rush)
Sam Williams - 68.6 grade (10 snaps, 3 run/7 pass rush)

Parsons Usage Report
Week 3 - 49 snaps on DL, 6 snaps in the box (linebacker)
Season - 119 snaps on DL, 17 snaps in the box

Lawrence is seeing a career low in percentage of defensive snaps (though his usage in Week 3 was a season high), and it seems that measured deployment of him at this stage of his career is working out nicely as he put together another dominant effort. That's good, because things were otherwise a mixed bag for this group that has so far typically been a strength of the defense. Lawrence was the only net plus run defender on the edge, while even in a down week Parsons was still good in the pass rush - but that was about it for this entire group. There were some lessons to be taken from the Cardinals game, and we can only hope the edge players really worked to learn them.


Award Alert: Parsons this week took home the official NFC Defensive Player Of The Month award (it was his first of his career).

Leighton Vander Esch - 48.5 grade (61 snaps, 29 run/8 pass rush/24 coverage)
Damone Clark - 45.7 grade (22 snaps, 2 run/18 coverage)
Markquese Bell - 34.7 grade (9 snaps, 6 run/1 pass rush/2 coverage)

Uh oh! If you're looking for a hidden culprit behind Arizona's dressing down of Dallas on the ground, this might be it. It's unclear what motivated the Cowboys to flip-flop Clark and Bell in terms of snaps, but the decision did not turn things for the better. The worst part is that this wasn't the result of the element of the position that can most easily have a fluke off day: tackling. There were no missed tackles between the three players, meaning their limited impact against the run was more due to failing to get where they were needed. On top of that, both LVE and Clark were spanked with their first bad coverage days of the season. No repeats of this one going forward, please!

Stephon Gilmore - 70.1 grade (60 snaps)
DaRon Bland - 61.0 grade (59 snaps)
Jourdan Lewis - 70.9 grade (34 snaps)
Noah Igbinoghene - NA grade (0 snaps)
Trevon Diggs - NA grade (0 snaps)
CJ Goodwin - NA grade (0 snaps)

Last week it was mentioned that the Cowboys prefer to funnel its CB snaps to three corners, and that's precisely how things unfolded in Week 3; not a single corner outside the top three saw a defensive snap. Gilmore saw a big rebound in coverage performance and should be able to get the job done as the team's CB1 going forward, though he did struggle in the run game and missed a tackle. But it was Bland who had the most important assignment sliding from the slot to outside coverage, and he was only...decent. We'll see whether he can adjust with more experience and improve in the role. It's a good thing that Lewis is still around to keep things from falling off down a man.

Jayron Kearse - 34.8 grade (61 snaps, 41 DL+box/20 coverage)
Malik Hooker - 72.1 grade (56 snaps, 12 DL+box/44 coverage)
Donovan Wilson - 49.6 grade (32 snaps, 21 DL+box/11 coverage)
Juanyeh Thomas - NA grade (0 snaps)
Israel Mukuamu - NA grade (0 snaps)

Ouch - if the linebackers weren't the source of the team's run-defense issues, then it was the SS duo of Kearse and Wilson. At least Wilson had the excuse of injury costing him preseason prep and the early games (and he graded out well in coverage); Kearse just dropped an atrocious game across the board. Hooker did his best to pick up the slack, but Dallas needs more from its vaunted Safety trio.

Team Grades/Breakdown
Noise-canceled score - "a score that accounts for how efficiently the offenses moved the ball, putting less emphasis on noisy things as turnover and special teams swings"
NC Dallas Cowboy - 24
NC Arizona Cardinals - 30

It doesn't hurt to see that the "true" margin in this contest was closer, but in a way it hurts all the more to see that Arizona "should" have scored even more than it actually did. Oh defense, where were thou?

Adjustment: as a reminder, the number is the team's grade in the appropriate area on the Week, while the bit in the parentheses notes how much better or worse that number is compared to the team's full-season grade.
Overall - 63.4 (-17)

Offense - 65.2 (-3)
Passing Off - 44.4 (-13.6)
Rushing Off - 82.8 (+9.2)
Pass Blocking - 61.7 (-2.6)
Run Blocking - 69.4 (+1.5)

Defense - 59.0 (-26.6)
Run Def - 50.4 (-14.2)
Tackling - 54.5 (-14.5)
Pass Rush - 68.0 (-17.4)
Coverage - 66.0 (-22.3)

Special Teams - 47.1 (-29.5)

Yeah, so...the Cowboys almost managed to be down (in many cases, very down) nearly across the board. The only exceptions were a solid kick up in overall rushing offense and a bit of a boost in run blocking. The offense wasn't good enough, and defense was even worse, and even special teams put up an abnormally poor day. Shake this one off, fellas!

Tier graphic time!
The Cowboys lost a couple of levels of league-wide standing with their blown contest. Both the offense and defense still rate above average, but the team is now looking up at two squads and way up at the Dolphins.

Game Ball

Tyler Smith - rust is the usual expectation for a guy who opened the year missing multiple games to injury, but Tyler Smith has been defying expectations since he entered the league! Best to not have to imagine what the OL would have looked like sans Smith on top of the other missing names, and it would be tremendous if this is the first of many strong performances from him.

Opposing Player Report

QB Joshua Dobbs - 78.4
RB James Conner - 70.4
WR Marquise Brown - 72.8
WR Michael Wilson - 65.0
TE Zach Ertz - 43.4

One would think with Arizona's offensive performance that it had some standout offensive skill position grades. Nope; Dobbs certainly did good work, but not star stuff. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the solid-only grade for Conner, who at times seemed to have his way with the Cowboys.

LT DJ Humphries - 66.7
LG Elijah Wilkinson - 58.8
C Hjalte Froholdt - 70.0
RG Will Hernandez - 58.0
RT Paris Johnson - 46.7

Normally, a high quality offensive day without big skill position grades means some tip-top blocking...but, no, not according to PFF. That leaves room for only one thing: it was at least some of the Dallas defenders who were failing, rather than Arizona thriving on that side of the ball. Do better, guys!

DE Victor Dimukeje - 69.2
DE Cameron Thomas - 67.6
DT Jonathan Ledbetter - 62.3
DT Leki Fotu - 55.0
LB Kyzir White - 79.3
LB Krys Barnes - 82.1

Arizona's defensive front was riddled with mediocre and poor performances; the names there are pretty unknown, and the play was a match in that regard. The off-the-ball linebackers were a different story; they were the best the Cardinals had to offer in the stoppage unit.

CB Jalen Thompson - 73.8
CB Kei'Trel Clark - 39.3
CB Marco Wilson - 72.8
S Andre Chachere - 63.3.
S K'Von Wallacw - 58.3

Again, a unit that did well enough but seemingly not enough to be worth the final score. Cowboys, oh Cowboys...

Final Word
Enough of this one...time to start forgetting about it. It's better to look ahead, and with that in mind....Next up: New England

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