It’s back to fun times for the weekly review of the numbers for the Dallas Cowboys. Their convincing, in ways easy, 38-3 win over the New England Patriots, had a lot of good stuff, but not all things were great. As always, we are looking for things that can tell us more about Dallas and what the future may hold, although the stark contrast between this game and the frustrating loss to the Arizona Cardinals is proof of how quickly things can change in the NFL.
The red zone still bedevils the offense
Once again, the Cowboys had little trouble moving between the 20s, but stalled on their first three times into the red zone. This was not what we wanted to see, and you can be sure the coaching staff felt the same. And the problems seemed largely self-inflicted, especially on the play where Dak Prescott and Tony Pollard got their wires crossed and collided trying to run the ball on a play that probably would have scored. Other times Prescott was sacked as protection broke down.
But there was a glimmer of hope in the fourth quarter. The outcome was already decided, but it was evident the staff wanted to break through. With a third and goal from the three, Mike McCarthy called for a handoff to rookie Hunter Luepke. The 238 lb. UDFA powered his way into the end zone for the first touchdown of his career and Dallas finally didn’t have to settle for three. Although he was listed as a fullback, Luepke’s college history showed he can be much more than just a lead blocker. It only makes sense that McCarthy is going to remember him when the Cowboys get in close again. He could carve out a nice role for himself as the short-yardage and goal line back.
Still, one for four is not what you want to see. It should be noted that the other offensive touchdown came from the 20 on Prescott’s throw to CeeDee Lamb. Technically that is not the red zone, but the team has also struggled keeping drives alive inside the 30. They still have to build on things, but this could be a good start.
The defense was back big time
Mac Jones is no Pat Mahomes, or even Brock Purdy, which is for now more pertinent, but this was an impressive performance against him. Three takeaways, two for instant points. They only got two sacks, but the pressure on Jones was relentless and had a lot to do with the New England quarterback only completing twelve of his 21 pass attempts for 150 yards. Micah Parsons did not show up much on the stat sheet, only notching two tackles, one for a loss, but he is a player whose contributions are not always properly reflected by the numbers. As always, he was constantly in the backfield and his footsteps had to be loud for Jones. Opponents know what he is and try to counter him, but that just opens up things for other defenders.
But for this game, the unquestioned star was cornerback DaRon Bland. He had both of the interceptions, and as the broadcast highlighted, he has more picks since he was drafted in 2022 than any other player in the NFL. In this room, the depth is real, and teams are going to have to learn that Bland is not the one you want to attack in the passing game. Let’s hope they don’t.
Another bright spot was the run defense, which all but shut down the New England ground game. The Patriots only gained 53 yards rushing. This was probably distorted by another big lead for Dallas, who were up 18-0 with 11:09 left in the second quarter following Leighton Vander Esch’s scoop and score of the fumble forced by Dante Fowler. Still, the run was doing nothing for the Patriots before that, either. This was a welcome return to form.
It was a bit sad to see former Dallas star Ezekiel Elliott finish the night with a six for sixteen stat line, but we are just going to wish him well going forward.
Some names it was nice to see contributing
I’ve already mentioned Luepke. The staff seems to be slowly working him into the gameplan, which is approved by many of us. Another player that was very absent last week was Deuce Vaughn. He saw a lot more action, but with very poor results. He only netted nine yards on eight carries, plus one pass for two more. Worse, he was a clear liability in pass protection, just getting trucked by the much bigger pass rushers.
However, he was forced into more action because Rico Dowdle had to leave the game with a hip problem. Hopefully this will not be a problem going forward for Dowdle, whose time with Dallas has been plagued by injuries.
Rico Dowdle injury update:— Patrik [No C] Walker (@VoiceOfTheStar) October 1, 2023
X-Rays were negative on his hip, and he’ll undergo an MRI on Monday. #Cowboys
Another player who was little used last week was Jalen Tolbert. He was very active receiving the ball, finishing the game with four catches for 53 yards, and no drops. More usage for him was something that was seen as a possible way to make up for a lack of production from free agent acquisition Brandin Cooks. Cooks did have his best game of the season with four catches on his four targets, but just 27 yards.
And though he only touched the ball twice on offense, KaVontae Turpin made the most of one of them, a 46-yard gain on a jet sweep, the biggest play of the game for the Cowboys offense. It almost turned into a disaster, though, as Turpin had the ball knocked loose. But in what has become something of a trend for Dallas, Sean McKeon, playing because Peyton Hendershot got nicked up last week, was right there to not only fall on the ball but to add eight more yards of field position. That set up Luepke’s eventual touchdown, so the impact of the play was even greater.
Biggest loss of Bill Belichick’s career
This was already covered by Chris Halling, but I had to include it here, because that’s a really good stat, don’t you think?
Hanging on to the ball
The Cowboys finished the game with a plus three turnover margin, and you almost always win when you do that. But I want to focus on the fact they did not lose the ball once, and have only had one giveaway all season on a pick when Prescott was trying to get points to catch up against Arizona. After all the furor about his interceptions last season, this is a strong sign that was an aberration, not a trend for him. He finished the game with another efficient stat line, completing 28 of 34 attempts for 261 yards and a touchdown. He still does not look like the problem for the offense. They’ve gotten lucky on fumbles three times so far this year and need to work on ball security, but sometimes luck is just part of the game.
They say that you can’t replicate takeaways year to year, but under Dan Quinn, this team has more of them than any other team in the league since he took the defensive coordinator job, and also have scored the most touchdowns on defense. That is starting to look suspiciously like he has this figured out, and his players also seem to have the hang of it.
There are better teams coming this season, and we will have to see how they do against them. Still, you have to like how this is looking.
A break for Tony?
After being really worked the past couple of weeks, Tony Pollard had a relatively light workload with just eleven carries for 47 yards. It was an acceptable 4.3 yards per carry, and this saw more of a running back by committee approach, with Turpin’s big gain the only reason they got to 124 yards. Obviously, they didn’t need much more.
The receiving load was also spread around
Jake Ferguson is starting to really come on, leading all receivers with 77 yards. Michael Gallup continues to improve, adding 60, while Tolbert was third. Lamb had a quiet game, only catching four balls for 36, including his TD. He seemed to be frustrated at times, but hopefully that is not something to be concerned about.
Penalties were way down
A caveat is necessary here, because there were additional infractions that were declined by the Pats. But there is no way we should complain about five penalties for just 32 yards, especially after last week’s flag-fest. Maybe that was partly due to the different officiating crew, but it also might be some better discipline. That is another thing that definitely needs to continue.