The Dallas Cowboys could ill-afford another primetime loss on a national stage. Entering Monday’s contest versus the Los Angeles Chargers, the Cowboys were given a gift from a wild Week 6 slate of Sunday games. Both undefeated teams, the San Francisco 49ers and the Philadelphia Eagles, lost their respective games.
The Dallas Cowboys received a golden chance to close the gap on their rivals and re-enter the race for at least the top spot in the NFC East and, at best, the top seed in the NFC. The Cowboys were able to capitalize, edging past Los Angeles for a 20-17 win.
Here are the stars of the game.
Although Tony Pollard had his second-worst rushing performance of the season (30 yards), Pollard found other ways to contribute to the team’s win. Pollard was featured in the passing game, catching six passes for 80 yards, including a game-changing explosive reception.
The Cowboys were facing a 3rd and 11 to begin the fourth quarter. Prescott, scrambling out of the pocket, found Pollard crossing the field. Pollard’s catch and the subsequent run went for a 60-yard gain and swung the momentum in the Cowboys’ favor in a tied game.
Later in the drive, Pollard would deliver a key block on safety Derwin James on a blitz. Pollard’s block allowed Prescott enough time to deliver a perfect throw to Brandin Cooks for the go-ahead score. Overall, the offense has work to do in the run game, but it was nice to see Pollard’s explosiveness return and change the game, as we’ve seen in the past.
For much of Monday’s game, it was a defensive battle. The Cowboys and the Chargers boast potent weapons capable of scoring points. Among those weapons is the uber-talented halfback Austin Ekeler for Los Angeles. Aside from the opening drive, the Dallas defense rendered Ekeler a non-factor. Ekeler had 14 carries for a mere 1.9 yards per carry. The defensive line deserves credit, but Osa Odighizuwa deserves special recognition.
Odighizuwa was relentless against the Chargers’ offensive line, making things difficult for their running game and passing attack. His suddenness at the snap showcased his ability to flash into the backfield and make big plays. One of his highlights saw Odighizuwa penetrate the backfield abruptly and take down Ekeler for a tackle for loss. At the end of the game, Odighizuwa collapsed the pocket to force a turnover. He finished the game with seven total tackles.
After the game quarterback Dak Prescott had last week, he was maligned for a perceived inability to win big games and a problem with costly interceptions. Against the Chargers, Prescott made great decisions and played efficient, mistake-free football. Prescott was placed in several adverse situations on Monday due to offensive penalties and an ineffective running game. Prescott’s mobility was a deciding factor in the team’s desperately needed win.
His 18-yard touchdown run on fourth and short was something from Prescott we haven’t seen in a long time; he kept the ball on a zone read and ran away from the Chargers secondary for the score. Several times, Prescott was chased from the pocket and made precise throws on the move.
On one occasion, Prescott was forced out of the pocket on a critical 3rd and 7 late in the fourth quarter. Prescott delivered a strike to CeeDee Lamb for a crucial first down to extend the drive and set up the Cowboys to take the lead on his game-winning drive. Prescott didn’t have ideal protection against the Chargers. While the defense deserves much credit for how they performed, Dak Prescott carried the offense to just enough points to outlast the Chargers.
CeeDee Lamb having the caliber of a game he had against Los Angeles was a matter of when not if. His frustration following last week’s loss was tangible and justified. Lamb is one the most dynamic receivers if appropriately utilized and aligned in many different formations where he can take advantage of mismatches.
Thankfully, Mike McCarthy and the offensive brain trust came to their senses and unleashed Lamb for an impactful night against the Los Angeles Chargers secondary, from the slot and outside the numbers. The volume Lamb received is what a WR1 deserves. Lamb was targeted seven times. He caught all those targets for 117 yards for 16.7 yards per reception.
The Cowboys’ new offensive philosophy is still a work in progress. Yet, as the team searches to find its footing and identity, it is apparent that Lamb needs to be at the solution’s core. As mentioned, the Dallas offense’s difficulties with establishing the run had them constantly playing behind the sticks.
Fortunately for them, Lamb was there to bail them out. Each of Lamb’s receptions resulted in a first down, and the average yards to gain on plays he was targeted was 9.4 yards. In short, Lamb was the equalizer to otherwise challenged offense. Hopefully, the Cowboys will continue crafting their passing attack deliberately to get Lamb involved even more.
Micah Parsons was a man possessed against the Chargers. He recorded six quarterback pressures and kept Los Angeles quarterback Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles offense out of sync. Below is a snapshot of the havoc Parsons wreaked on Monday night.
Micah Parsons generated 6 of his team-high 7 pressures against Chargers RT Trey Pipkins (across 28 matchups), including a sack in the final two minutes of the 4th quarter.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 17, 2023
Parsons had only one pass rush rep against left tackle Rashawn Slater all game.#DALvsLAC | #DallasCowboys pic.twitter.com/QSMuVrSTMA
With the absence of linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, there were questions on whether that changed the utilization of Parsons and where he may play on defense. Dan Quinn diversified Parsons’ defense alignment and he was deployed in numerous spots. On a few snaps, Parsons played as an off-ball linebacker, but he mostly played off the edge as usual. The Chargers committed extra blockers to Parsons, but it didn’t stop him from nearly getting to Herbert and forcing Herbert into errant throws.
When the team needed it most, Parsons came through with a massive sack on Herbert on the Chargers’ final drive of the game to force them into a third and long attempt. On the next play, the Cowboys’ pass rush closed in on Herbert to force a rushed throw that landed in the waiting arms of Stephon Gilmore, effectively ending the game.