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A handful of stats reveal the totality of the Cowboys’ failure against the Bills

Sunday was very not good for the Dallas Cowboys.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Buffalo Bills
He was a nearly unstoppable force.
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes, teams want to just burn the tape or whatever the digital equivalent is after a demoralizing loss like the Dallas Cowboys suffered at the hand of the Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon. But that is hardly appropriate for this one. There were so many egregious failures and mistakes that this one needs to be dug into. Thanks to other results in the league, the Cowboys still locked up a playoff spot, but did themselves no favors as they seek to avoid going on the road as a wild card team. That looks inevitable, and worse, it now looks like their most likely opponent in the first round will be the surging Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who just saw Baker Mayfield have a perfect passer rating at the Green Bay Packers.

The numbers from this game were just as dismal as you might expect, but first it has to be mentioned about how a handful of specific mistakes also led to this misery.

However, as the always insightful Cowboys Stats observes, their overall terrible play likely would have led to a defeat. Here are some of the ugly numbers.

Pounding the ball and Cooking

The Bills amassed a somewhat staggering 266 yards on the ground, with the bulk of the damage being done by James Cook, who absolutely went off. He contributed 179 yards, and at times simply refused to go down, as evidenced by the play in the first quarter where he was met near the line of scrimmage but simply refused to go down. The Dallas defenders swarmed to the ball, but even though they seemed to outnumber the Buffalo players who joined in, Cook just keep pushing ahead to get a first down. That was a frustrating scene to witness.

Those yards he gained were not due to one or two breakaways, either, as his longest run of the game was just 24 yards, with one other for 20. He mostly did it in smaller chunks, with some excellent blocking opening holes, and his determination kept turning what should have been short gains into solid pickups.

He also was the most effective receiver they had, contributing 42 yards on just two catches. It takes a team, but he was as close to a one-man wrecking crew as you are going to see in the NFL. This was an absolute failure by Dan Quinn. Buffalo’s coaching staff found a true weakness in the Cowboys’ defense. They have had struggles against the run before and Joe Brady, the new offensive play-caller for the Bills, wisely kept going to the well when he saw how impotent the defense was in stopping the run. Coming into the game, Buffalo was averaging a decent but not overwhelming 122.4 yards per game rushing. They completely bashed Dallas. Quinn’s scheme is designed to stop the pass, and is supposed to complement a high-scoring offense in games where the opponent is forced to throw the ball. Josh Allen joked after the game about not having to do much on the field, as he only completed seven of fifteen passes for 94 yards. But a few of those were daggers, including the one-handed catch by Stephon Diggs and of course the receiving TD for Cook. They just did not have to throw the ball at all as Quinn and his defense had no answers for the run.

Not so MVP

On the other side of things, Dak Prescott had a horrific game. Things were not helped by the loss of Zack Martin in the game, which led to the pressure on Prescott being dialed up even more and him being sacked three times. But his accuracy was very off. He would throw an interception late, but repeatedly he would almost get picked on bad throws. It could have been much worse. On one series, he threw three consecutive incomplete passes, and that was just more illustration of how off target he was.

It was highly uncharacteristic for him. He finished with 21 completions on 34 attempts for 134 yards, but a chunk of those came on a garbage time drive in the fourth quarter that demonstrated highly questionable judgment from Mike McCarthy in keeping his starters in. Both Prescott and CeeDee Lamb were getting hit hard throughout this game. Getting a touchdown when it had no effect on the outcome was simply not worth the risk of injury. The coaching staff as a whole just did a terrible job in this one. If they don’t get better fast, this will be a brief journey in the postseason for the Cowboys.

Penalties killed them

The Cowboys had five penalties for 48 yards. That is actually better than they usually do.

But the Bills only got hit once for fifteen. And the flags on the Cowboys were brutal, stopping drives or keeping them alive for Buffalo. The roughing the kicker call on Sam Williams near the end of the first quarter was a real blow and resulted in the Bills taking a 14-point lead. Had he not left his feet and landed on punter Sam Martin, Dallas would have gotten the ball back down one score, and the entire complexion of the game might have changed. Instead, they seemed to become desperate, with Prescott pressing and making multiple mistakes. It also led to the Cowboys getting away from the run game, exactly what they try to do to opponents. This flipping of the script was instrumental in this third debacle of 2023 for Dallas.

Those three things combined to lead to what was obviously the worst game since the Cowboys’ bye. Now it has to be back to the drawing board for the coaching staff as they must correct these issues. This was also a road game, where Dallas is simply not as successful this year. The next one is a visit to the 10-4 Miami Dolphins, and it is the last chance to prove they can beat a good team away from AT&T Stadium. That is something they badly need to do as the playoffs will almost certainly require them to become road warriors.

With the teams on the schedule in December, it was hardly unexpected they would drop at least one. How badly they were manhandled by the Bills was not something we anticipated. Now they need to bounce back the way they did after the San Francisco 49ers did much the same to them. Given that those 49ers are a very likely playoff opponent if Dallas does avoid going one and done, that is imperative.

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