We wanted a bounce back, and we got one. There were still flaws, but the 38-3 whipping of the New England Patriots was rather reassuring for fans of the Dallas Cowboys. There are always things to learn from games. It is always a bit subjective. But here are things we now know about the Cowboys we didn’t before the game.
This was a triumph for the coaches
A week ago, coming off the dismal loss to the Arizona Cardinals, both Mike McCarthy and Dan Quinn were taking a lot of fire. The way the team performed against the Patriots is a credit to both of them.
There is still one big wart for the offense, which will get a separate handling, but for the most part it was humming. A lot of that is the performance of the players, with Dak Prescott completing 82% of his passes and not throwing an interception. Michael Gallup continues to look more and more like himself. It certainly helped the situation for most of the offensive line to be back, although we will wait anxiously for news on how Zack Martin is faring after he left the game with what has been reported to be a quadriceps bruise.
While this was still the Texas Coast offense, there were encouraging signs of flexibility from McCarthy. In the loss in Arizona, multiple players were just absent or barely used. Against New England, we saw Jalen Tolbert, KaVontae Turpin, Hunter Luepke, and Deuce Vaughn all get more opportunities, albeit in still limited roles. All but Vaughn had positive impacts. None of them are threatening any of the starters, but this was much more a case of McCarthy using all the tools in his kit. Perhaps he was so conservative in the lone loss because of the patchwork offensive line. The game on Sunday showed that is not the way to go, and hopefully he will take that to heart.
Quinn’s defense was fully back to its old self. It is hard to point to what changed. It was more just them getting the job done the way they had in the first two games. One of the biggest changes from the third game was the way they shut down the run, an element they completely failed in against the Cards. That allowed the pass rush to really come after Mac Jones. While they only had two sacks, three takeaways with two going for touchdowns was very much a part of the pass defense. As the broadcast highlighted, Dallas is leading the league in both takeaways and defensive scores since he was hired, and very high in sacks. That is not supposed to be sustainable year to year, but Quinn is proving that old adage wrong.
Even special teams coordinator John Fassel got in on the fun with the two point conversion.
As that shows, Fassel spotted a vulnerability when New England came hard to block the extra point, and came up with a nifty play to get a bonus point out of the situation. It was beautifully executed by Bryan Anger and Chauncey Golston. And who doesn’t love big man scores?
Fassel also has his big gun, the leg of Brandon Aubrey. He still is perfect on field goals, and with the concerns about the red zone offense, that is really important. Remember how worried we were about the place kicker situation before the season? Don’t we all feel a bit foolish now?
There is only one kicker so far who has more than 10 field goal attempts and is a perfect 100%.— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 2, 2023
That kicker is Brandon Aubrey.
It's not just that he's a perfect 13/13 on the year, but his kicks have been right down the middle. This guy is dialed in. pic.twitter.com/My2KpM1tXS
Overall, this was an excellent job by the staff, including getting the team to put the loss behind them and come out and just crush the opponent. Now they need to do an even better job this week, because the undefeated San Francisco 49ers are easily the most formidable opponent they have faced.
Sorry, but Deuce is not an every down back
Vaughn had his first significant number of snaps for the first time in the league. It was not pretty. He was constantly stopped for little gain or negative yards.
It was not the plan. Rico Dowdle left the game with an injury, and Vaughn was pressed into service as Tony Pollard’s relief. Given the big lead, it was a good opportunity to give Vaughn work that will likely pay off down the road. But it is clear he is not the player you want filling in as RB2. His pass protection was particularly alarming. He is just too small to take on NFL pass rushers to protect Prescott, and the quarterback must be given better blocking to keep him healthy as well as more time to get passes off.
If Dowdle is not ready to go this week, something else has to be done. Malik Davis will likely be elevated from the practice squad in that case. It is a logical precaution, but he should not automatically fill the RB2 role. That should go to Hunter Luepke, who showed what he could do on the touchdown he scored in the fourth quarter. Luepke should be far superior to Vaughn in picking up the pass rush. And he can serve as a fully rounded back. Just as the staff gave Vaughn work to help develop him, they should do so with Luepke, who can run and catch the ball as well as block.
This does not mean Vaughn has no role on the team. He just needs to be used differently, strictly as a change of pace back with specific packages. There is no reason to rush him. Let him learn and get better.
The offensive line is so very important
It is apparent that McCarthy felt himself very limited against Arizona when he had only two of his starters on the field. Against the Pats, he coached with much more confidence and creativity. This has to continue, but now we have to watch what happens with Martin, and hope Tyron Smith can make it back soon. The offense is going to need all hands on deck in San Francisco, or as close to it as possible.
We always felt that this offense would go as the line went, and that just seems more apparent.
The red zone woes may be all about execution
Here’s one example of a red zone play that should have resulted in a touchdown against the Patriots.
If Schoonmaker makes this catch nobody is complaining about the redzone.— (Foots The King) (@FootsDaKing) October 2, 2023
4 really has been locked in… let’s stop overreacting to state that don’t matter and let’s look at wins and losses.
Dallas won yesterday pic.twitter.com/7syk8lsdmX
There was also the mixup between Prescott and Pollard when they ran into one another trying to execute a handoff that may have scored as well. Luke Schoonmaker has not been good catching the ball so far, which was supposed to be a real strength of his. Prescott has also made some bad reads in the zone. This seems good evidence that the play calls are not the problem.
It is possible the players get tight and make more mistakes. They are fully aware of their lack of success inside the 20. That is why the Luepke touchdown might pay big dividends going forward. They know they can get the ball in the end zone if they just do their assignments. That may be huge against the 49ers, because the coming opponent is having no problem at all scoring TDs.
They play so well with a lead, but falling behind could be a big issue
In all three games they have won, the Cowboys have had big leads early, and that defense made sure it stayed that way. Part of the leads have come from defensive and special teams touchdowns. As good as they are at those, you can’t depend on them, as we found out against the Cardinals.
It is going to be very hard to get two or more scores up on San Francisco. They score points like Dallas does, with 125 this season compared to the Cowboy’s 124. With weapons like Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuels, Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle, and surprisingly good Brock Purdy, they are going to be a tremendous test for the Dallas defense. This game may come down to getting out of the scoring doldrums to try and keep up, and that is not a proven ability for the Cowboys. We will have to wait and see how they can stack up here. The Niners are also tied for fifth in turnover margin, so there is a real element of strength against strength there.