It was important for the Dallas Cowboys to come off the bye week and look good. The first six games of the season had big highs and some deep lows. Facing the Los Angeles Rams, the Cowboys delivered, scoring their most points of the season, with all three units of the team getting in on the action.
Here are some of the numbers, and maybe what we might learn from them.
It was Dak Prescott’s best game of the season, especially in terms of his numbers. He had 304 yards passing, including four touchdowns. He was in command, and would have probably padded them even more if this game had not been so under control for most of the way. He was accurate, completing 25 of 31 passes with only one tipped ball interception to mar the picture. His passer rating of 133.7 reflects just how good he was.
He also made some key plays with his legs. He had four rushes for 19 yards, but the way he extended plays with his mobility was more important.
Why not both?
When you have a stud wide receiver, you want to get him the ball a lot. At the same time, it is important to spread the ball around so the defense can’t stop you by taking that one big target out of the picture.
Prescott did both. CeeDee Lamb also had his best game of the year, catching a highly impressive 12 of the 14 balls sent his way for 158 yards and two of the touchdowns. But there were eight other receivers who also caught passes in the game, which spread the attention of the Rams secondary. The two elements can go hand in hand, and it certainly looked like it did for Dallas in this game.
For the past few games, Brandin Cooks has become more and more a part of things. That trend continued as he caught three balls for 49 yards, including a 25-yard TD and a fourth-down conversion. And Jake Ferguson caught all four of the passes thrown his way for 47, including the 18-yard TD that opened the scoring to give the Cowboys a lead they never came close to surrendering.
Bland is spicy
For the third time this fall, DaRon Bland snatched a pass and took it to the house. That was hardly his only contribution in the game, as he had two total passes defended and led all defenders in tackles with seven. He is quietly having an All-Pro-worthy season filling in for the injured Trevon Diggs. His impact is basically just under Micah Parsons on defense.
Patchwork line comes through
Earlier this week, we saw one of the most dreaded combinations of words in a sentence appear, “Tyron Smith” and “neck stinger.” Smith was unable to go in this game, and Chuma Edoga had to fill in. Edoga would suffer his own injury in the third quarter, and Asim Richards was next man up.
The first Dallas possession made the situation look downright scary, as Prescott was sacked three times on the drive. Only some of that hero ball we have seen Prescott exhibit before saved the drive and delivered a touchdown.
But those were the only sacks Aaron Donald and company were able to manage, as the line settled down and Prescott was able to get the ball off the rest of the way, although he did pay for it with a couple of hard hits just after the ball left his hand. Still, this was an admirable recovery for the line.
The running game still struggled
I said this was mostly fun, and this is one thing that adds a discordant note. The Cowboys only had 102 yards on the ground in a game when they should have been using the run to burn clock with a big lead. Tony Pollard had just 53 yards, although his 4.4 per carry was not bad. There were still a lot of runs for no gain. This is something that bears a lot of watching. The situation at left tackle may have contributed, but Dallas tends to be right handed when they keep it on the ground. However, there may be another factor at play here.
The Texas Coast was clear
It’s hard to find anything to complain about concerning Mike McCarthy’s scheme or play-calling in this game. The team marched up and down the field most of the time.
That is a possible reason the running game just seems anemic. In the West Coast offense McCarthy’s is based on, short passes are interchangeable with runs, and when your quarterback is cooking the way Prescott works, that is a potent approach. The best example of this comes from the Cowboys’ initial possession of the second half.
To set the situation, the Rams had scored back-to-back touchdowns on their last series of the first half and the first one coming out of the intermission. This had cut their deficit down a bit, to 33-17. While it was not a very threatening situation, Dallas still needed to put some more points on the board and burn some time.
Their answer was a masterclass in ball control offense, as they held the ball for 17 plays and used up 9:57 on the clock. Although they did not score a touchdown, Brandon Aubrey’s field goal pushed the margin to 19 points. There was no real way Los Angeles could get back into the game, especially with Matthew Stafford having to leave the game in the fourth quarter due to a hand injury when he hit Mazi Smith’s helmet on a follow-through.
It’s a game to game league, and we still have to see how McCarthy does, starting next week against the Philadelphia Eagles in a game that could do a lot to determine not only who takes the NFC East, but could have big implications for getting the top seed in the conference. But this was the best the offense has looked all year. They converted 50% of their third downs and scored on two of their four trips into the red zone, with the interception and the Aubrey field goal just mentioned the two misses. Bryan Anger did not even punt until the fourth quarter when the Cowboys were just trying to get to the end of the game and Cooper Rush had come in to protect Dak Prescott in garbage time.
Outside of the two scoring drives bracketing halftime, the Rams just were not able to do much with the ball all game. While he was only sacked twice, Matthew Stafford was under constant pressure, and that continued when Brett Rypien had to come in to replace him. Los Angeles only converted four of thirteen third downs, and one of two fourth-down tries. They averaged just 4.8 yards per offensive snap, compared to the Cowboys’ 6.1. And they got the takeaway from Bland.
This was another excellent performance by Dan Quinn’s bunch. And as we saw, when the offense is also humming, beatdowns result.
They were special
John Fassel’s special teamers absolutely shone. KaVontae Turpin electrified the home crowd with a 63-yard return of a free kick to set up a two-play touchdown “drive.” He had the opportunity because Sam Williams had just burst through the Rams’ line to block a punt out of the end zone for a safety. As a side note, Williams was also used as a gunner on those two Anger punts, and based on how he performed, we should hope to see more of that.
But all season, we have been singing the praises of Aubrey, who continued his sterling performance in this game with his two field goals and five extra points, and he tied an NFL record in the process.
With the 18-yard FG, Brandon Aubrey now ties Travis Coons for the most field goals without a miss in NFL history to start a career.— Jess Nevarez (@JessNevarez_) October 29, 2023
Don’t feel alone if you feel foolish for worrying about the Cowboys giving the job to Aubrey in training camp.
Once again, the Cowboys jumped out to a lead and just buried an opponent that looked badly outmatched. The next one is not likely to go that way. But this was an encouraging start following the bye.