The Dallas Cowboys looked like a new team in week eight, returning to action off the bye at home against the Los Angeles Rams. Or, they looked like the team they know they’re capable of being. While Cowboys fans and media alike had their wish list of things they were hoping to see off the bye, it was a quiet week off at The Star while Mike McCarthy, Dan Quinn, and John Fassel got to work. The result was a domination of the Rams in all three phases, a win that showed off the complementary style of football McCarthy has preached, and a statement made from AT&T Stadium as the Cowboys travel to Philadelphia next weekend.
The Cowboys offense quickly overcame two sacks in their first three plays, spreading out the Rams defense for the rest of the game and seeing Dak Prescott hit on 25 of 31 passes for 304 yards and four touchdowns. Those four TD passes equaled the number of scoring throws the Rams had allowed all season to this point, as the Cowboys once again saw the benefit of funneling their pass offense through CeeDee Lamb. Lamb received help from another efficient game by Brandin Cooks, scoring his first touchdown in front of home fans, and also tight ends Jake Ferguson and Luke Schoonmaker. The rookie Schoonmaker’s only catch got the chains moving on a drive that would be nothing but Lamb the rest of the way, with catches of 26, 24, and finally a 22-yard touchdown that put the game out of reach at 33-3.
This will be a slightly different edition of the usual game notes, as I was in attendance for this Cowboys win, so here are a few live observations from a fun (and surprisingly cold?) afternoon at AT&T Stadium.
- Continuing to feature CeeDee Lamb was just the first thing to look for from the Cowboys passing game after the bye, but beyond that their last game against the Chargers hinted at more chances for Jalen Tolbert. Only targeted one time, Tolbert getting a designed throw his way on a slant is still a sign of progress. The final snap count shows Tolbert and Michael Gallup playing almost equally, with Gallup logging just four more snaps. The veteran Gallup was his usual self when Prescott had to extend a play, catching two of his three targets. Add in the speed and vertical element that Brandin Cooks is finally giving this team, as well as a willingness to include KaVontae Turpin in the pass attack, and this became a landmark game for McCarthy’s offense in proving they can regularly give Prescott answers and get the ball out of his hands quickly and efficiently.
- The Cowboys offense having a breakout game put Dan Quinn’s defense in the position they’re built to play from, and from the in-person All-22 view it was a textbook performance from them in all phases. Daron Bland’s third pick-six of the season was the cherry on top, but on a snap-by-snap basis players like Markquese Bell and Damone Clark continue to make the most of opportunity. Not only has Dallas found something in this linebacker duo, but Bell and Clark have helped free up Donovan Wilson to do what he does best as a box defender. Malik Hooker and Jourdan Lewis played strong games in coverage to mostly keep throws in front of them, knowing the Rams only way back in the game was downfield shots to the trio of Cooper Kupp, Tutu Atwell, and Puka Nacua.
Micah Parsons lined up all over the defense, and there was no noticeable weak spot whenever he moved from one position to the next. Osa Odighizuwa and Neville Gallimore consistently made plays with range outside the tackles, Mazi Smith flashed against the run, and the ageless DeMarcus Lawrence was in on Stafford to rush plenty of throws. Everything may still start up front for this Dallas defense, but against the Rams it was an in-sync effort with the secondary and pass rush playing in unison, something they deserve a lot of credit for adjusting to after not having Trevon Diggs.
The Cowboys have talked for a while about being a more physically imposing team, and just maybe this stat from Week 8 shows they’ve made good progress here: The Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers, the only teams to beat this defense so far, have both failed to win a game since their victories over the Cowboys. This was a league-wide talking point last season about teams losing the week after playing the 49ers and their physical offense, and in some ways we may be seeing a similar trend once teams get through Parsons and company.
- With an extra week to scheme against his old team, John Fassel’s special teams unit was not going to miss out on the party against the Rams. Brandon Aubrey was perfect on two field goals and five extra points, Turpin had a 63-yard free kick return after a safety, as well as a long punt return touchdown called back. Sam Williams blocked a punt that pushed this game to a three score lead in the first half with a safety. The cohesion between Fassell’s core special teamers also having a role in Quinn’s defense has given the Cowboys one of the most athletic and active special teams units in the league, and this was on full display for the Cowboys. They outclassed the Rams in every area.