After three games in a row that lulled us into thinking the Dallas Cowboys were not going to fall into any trap games down the stretch, they nearly did exactly that against the Seattle Seahawks. Despite coming into AT&T Stadium as only the third opponent with a winning record all season, the Seahawks had been struggling of late, and as was mentioned during the streamcast on Amazon Prime, had not scored a touchdown in seven quarters. That ended abruptly as Geno Smith found D.K. Metcalf for a 73-yard touchdown on just their third play from scrimmage. It was the opening salvo in an anxiety-inducing back-and-forth shootout that was very much in doubt until the final 1:07 of the contest.
It was a game with some remarkable performances, both good and bad, for the Cowboys. Let’s peer into the stats form this game to see how it all came about, and what it may presage for the next game. That is now the biggest of the season to date, against the NFL leading Philadelphia Eagles.
Three quarters of tissue paper defense
Dan Quinn’s reputation took a big hit in the worst performance by his unit since the debacle against the San Francisco 49ers. The first Seattle score was just the beginning of a terrible performance as Metcalf would go off to have six catches on eight targets for 134 yards and three touchdowns, the last one 43 seconds into the fourth quarter. At that point, the Seahawks had converted nine of eleven third downs and added one fourth-down conversion, plus scored a field goal on the only other failed third down.
The game was a combination of a great offensive plan by Pete Carroll and his OC Shane Waldron, plus unexpectedly good play from the offense, particularly the line. The vaunted Dallas pass rush did not have a single sack of Smith all game, and to that point was only getting inconsistent pressure. In an extremely rare occurrence, neither team punted at all. Seattle was much better on third downs despite another strong showing by the Cowboys offense, forcing Dallas to settle for Brandon Aubrey kicks four times. Fortunately he was just as perfect on those as he has been all season.
Even more fortuitous, the defense finally came to life in the fourth quarter. Although they only had one series all game where the Seahawks failed to get a first down, the final three Seattle possessions all saw the Cowboys force them into fourth downs around midfield. Carroll elected to go for it on each one, due to both the field position and the scoreboard, and three times the defense got the badly needed stop. The first of those, where DeMarcus Lawrence got through the line to stop Zach Charbonnet, was a turning point. While it would take two possessions for Dallas to take the lead for good, this play was when the defense took control of the fourth quarter.
There was plenty of blame to go around for the gross ineptitude of the defense up to that point, but the most glaring failure was that of DaRon Bland. Just named NFC Defensive Player of the Month for November, he was constantly giving up crucial completions and had one egregious missed tackle as well. However, he redeemed himself somewhat with his eighth interception of the year in the third quarter.
If there was one defensive player who really shone in this game, it was Osa Odighizuwa. He was disruptive all game, with six total tackles, one for a loss, and a QB hit. On a team loaded with standouts, he is quietly having an excellent year. Dallas needed every bit of his contribution in this one.
The offense may have the league MVP leading it
Dak Prescott was once again just great. He would have 299 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions, plus added 23 more with his legs. He also had a TD run called back on one of the ridiculous number of penalties in this game. More about that later. But Prescott was at times surgical, completing 29 of 41 attempts, including several drops by his receivers. He was sacked four times as the Seahawks pass rush was much more effective than expected. That just added to the degree of difficulty. He had no true deep balls, with his longest completion going for just 23 yards on the opening series. But he kept sustaining drives and getting the team into the end zone. Pending the results of the remaining games in Week 13, he leads the league in touchdown passes and is sixth in yards per game. That is mostly due to the offensive explosion by the Cowboys since that 49ers game.
That was not all perfect, as the Cowboys converted only four of their eight red zone opportunities as the Seattle defense was surprisingly stiff in close, but just getting there so often is a testament to how Prescott was so effective.
CeeDee Lamb had some of the drops. But he hauled in twelve of his seventeen targets for 116 yards and a TD. He not only had the longest reception of the game, he had the longest run, on an end around that was the biggest play gainer for Dallas all night. He is tough as well as skilled. He is fifth in the league in yards per game at 98.5, and like the rest of the offense, he has done most of his damage since the 49ers game,
Jake Ferguson has made us have no regrets about moving on from Dalton Schultz. He was the second-leading receiver on Thursday night, with 77 yards, a touchdown, and a hurdle. Brandin Cooks also contributed a TD and 45 yards. While Lamb and Ferguson are the two big targets, Prescott continued his habit of spreading the ball around, completing passes to eight different receivers.
The running game was more sufficient than good, but given how much of the game Dallas was trailing on the scoreboard, that is understandable. Tony Pollard had a couple of good runs, including a six-yard score in the third quarter to help his team keep pace.
Flags, flags everywhere
The only nice thing we can say about penalties in this game is that Seattle was marginally worse, getting hit for 10 infractions for 130 yards to Dallas’ 9 for 127. And it could have been worse. Both Mike McCarthy and Carroll elected to decline holding penalties, which worked our poorly for the Cowboys, and several other flags were picked up. One result was a Cowboys touchdown drive of 12 plays and 75 yards in the third quarter that saw four penalties called on the Seahawks, all of which resulted in first down plays for the Cowboys. That led to nine first downs on one drive, a remarkable “achievement.”
Worst of all, there were very few questionable calls, with most being clear on review. This was a case of players on both sides making mistake after mistake. One example of the egregious nature of things was the offsides called on Dante Fowler, who lined up in the neutral zone. That was not the first of the year for him, and it is mystifying how such a seasoned and talented veteran can keep making such boneheaded errors.
On to the Eagles
There are implications for the next game. Obviously not all are good. If the defense plays like this when Philadelphia comes to AT&T Stadium, they are going to get shredded. You don’t get third/fourth and short stops against the infamous Brotherly Shove. A.J. Brown will be licking his chops when he sees what Metcalf did to Bland and the rest of the secondary. Jalen Hurts is clearly better than Smith, especially when he is flushed form the pocket.
The offense can certainly hang with the Eagles, but Philadelphia is both maddeningly lucky and phenomenally resilient in close games. Even with the clear home field advantage Dallas has, they cannot afford to go down to the wire against their division rival.
There is a lot to clean up on defense, and some lingering issues like the red zone for the offense. The Cowboys have the advantage of the “mini-bye” to work on those, and it looks like they will need every bit of extra time.