You can tell by their interactions on the sidelines that head coach Mike McCarthy and Dak Prescott have a great relationship that allowed the offense to flourish.
With McCarthy as his playcaller, Prescott had the best season of his career. He cut his interceptions from 15 to nine. His interception percentage (1.5%) tied for the second best of his career. He completed a career-best 69.9% of his passes. “If you’ve asked any offensive playcaller, that relationship’s imperative to success,” McCarthy said. “I think that’s being Captain Obvious. Everybody does it differently. I’m calling it and he’s hauling it — that’s what Dak likes to say, and that’s the way it has to go. That connection takes extra time, we put the time in early through camp. It’s worked out well and I think the proof is in the numbers.”
Before McCarthy became Prescott’s playcaller this season, they already had a strong relationship. When Prescott suffered a fractured and dislocated right ankle in 2020, McCarthy’s first season in Dallas, the coach drove the quarterback home after a rehab session. They spent hours talking about football and life.
They have grown tighter this year with their new partnership. Brandin Cooks saw it with Drew Brees and Sean Payton with the New Orleans Saints, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots and Matthew Stafford and Sean McVay with the Los Angeles Rams.
”I want to say throughout the offseason, the amount of time they spent together, obviously that’s the quarterback, but it was on a whole other level,” Cooks said. “Just the respect they have for one other, you can clearly see it from the way he coaches him and the way Dak responds to the coaching. ... Any great quarterback/head coach duo, it has to be like that.”
On Thursday nights, a couple of hours after meetings end, Prescott and McCarthy meet in the coach’s office. They go over the game plan once again and focus in on what the quarterback wants and does not want called on game day. They cover the drive-starting plays and the situational moments, but it’s more than that.
Cowboys fans are probably used to the accomplishments of their favorite players diminished by the national media including DaRon Bland.
After a shockingly strong rookie campaign where he ascended to secondary sous chef behind Trevon Diggs, the latest Al Harris protege was sent to study. Leading the team with five interceptions out of the slot in 2022 wasn’t enough. Instead the team asked him to master boundary-corner cuisine. And what he created when taking over the kitchen in 2023 was worthy of accolade.
Just like Fx’s The Bear was the best show on cable television in 2023, Bland was that on broadcast TV. The NFL is king, owning 96 of the 100 most-watched programs since September and no player stole the spotlight more than Bland did. He was the NFL’s best defender this season and should be the clear choice to be named Defensive Player of the Year.
No clear-cut, best pass rusher
As witnessed with the various All-Pro teams, from the NFLPA to PFF, the AP to Next Gen Stats, opinion is split amongst who the best edge rusher was this year. No one player stood out above the others amongst the three players considered to be the best at the position.
Pittsburgh’s TJ Watt led the league in sacks, with 19 across 17 games, clear of two players tied for second with 17.5. No one is seriously considering Trey Hendrickson or Josh Allen for the award. The other two top edges, Cleveland’s Myles Garrett and Dallas’ own Micah Parsons are the other contenders.
The value of a Pick-6 in terms of sacks
Like Watt’s 19.5 sacks in 17 games, Bland’s league-leading interception total of nine isn’t historic. In fact, Bland is one of 14 defenders to have nine or more interceptions since the 2000 season. But is first among all of those players in return yardage with 209, the most in the league since Emmitt Thomas’ 214 in 1974.
The advanced numbers put Bland’s performance in even greater context. Comparing two significantly different acts for impact is a difficult thing to do without advanced metrics. But Expected Points allows us to measure the average impact of types of plays, and the scoring interception return dwarfs the sack.
The Cowboys got them right where they want them.
The Cowboys have made it to the Super Bowl six times as either the one or two-seeded team. They won all three Super Bowls they advanced to after being the NFC’s top seed. They won two of the three Super Bowls they reached as the second seed. They have reached the Conference championship game 16 times and nine of them came as the first or second seeded team.
They are 9-3 in the playoffs as the top seed all-time. The Cowboys are 10-7 in the years when they were the second seed. They are 17-20 overall when starting the playoffs as the third seed or lower. They have only reached two Super Bowls (1970 and 1975) when seeded lower than second. They lost both of those games.
Kings Of The Mountain
Dallas finally secured its first No. 1 seed in the playoffs in 1977. They ran the table at Texas Stadium with a 37-7 win over the Bears and a 23-6 victory over Minnesota. They closed out the run in New Orleans in Super Bowl XII. The Cowboys rolled over the Broncos, and former Dallas quarterback Craig Morton, 27-10.
In 1978 they were the second seed and dispatched the Falcons, 27-20, and the Rams, 28-0, at Texas Stadium. But the season ended with a 35-31 loss to the Steelers in Miami in Super Bowl XII. In 1979 Dallas was again the NFC’s top-seeded team. The Rams shocked Dallas in a 21-19 upset at Texas Stadium in Roger Staubach’s final game.
The Dynasty Run
From 1992 through 1995, the Cowboys alternated being the top or second seeded team in the NFC with the 49ers. In 1992, the second-seeded Cowboys routed the Eagles, 34-10, then upended the top-seeded 49ers 30-20. Dallas then routed Buffalo 52-17 in Super Bowl XXVII.
The next year, the Cowboys were the top seed and beat the Packers, 27-17, the 49ers, 38-21, and won Super Bowl XXVIII over the Bills, 30-13. In 1994, the Cowboys flipped positions with the 49ers again. This time they clubbed the Packers, 35-9, before falling to the 49ers, 38-28, in the Conference title game in San Francisco.In 1995, the two teams switched back once again with Dallas opening the playoffs with a 30-11 win over the Eagles.
Cowboys scouting report: Breaking down the Packers defensive scheme - David Howman, Blogging the Boys
What the Cowboys offense will be dealing with on Sunday.
Knowing where Barry comes from is helpful to understanding how his defense operates. His coaching career was forged in the fires of the Tampa 2, a scheme that features (as Cowboys fans know all too well) plenty of zone coverage with two deep safeties. Unlike Marinelli, though, Barry has often preferred to operate out of a more traditional 3-4 look, with two outside linebackers that present an equal threat of rushing the passer or dropping into coverage. That made him a natural fit under Wade Phillips with the Rams and, later, Brandon Staley.
The hope was that Barry, despite his unspectacular performances in Detroit and Washington, would replicate the success of Phillips and Staley. To put things politely, though, that hasn’t happened. Barry’s first year saw the Packers drop from 10th in defensive DVOA to 12th; they fell to 25th the next year, and finished this year ranked 27th.
Unlike his previous stops, though, Barry’s failures can’t be explained away by a lack of talent. Jaire Alexander is often considered one of the league’s best cornerbacks, while defensive lineman Kenny Clark and linebacker De’Vondre Campbell have both been named to either Pro Bowl or All-Pro honors. They also have a talented edge rushing duo in Rashan Gary and Preston Smith. And yet they’re one of the worst defenses in football three years into Barry’s tenure. In fact, they’re 26th in both pass defense DVOA and run defense DVOA, suggesting that this defense is bad at everything.
Not only that, but this defense is uniquely bad at stopping the things Dallas does best on offense. This year’s Packers defense finished dead last in EPA/dropback allowed and QBR allowed on throws to the middle of the field, which is an area where Dak Prescott has thrived this year, particularly on throws to CeeDee Lamb and Jake Ferguson. Lamb, in particular, has been one of the most lethal receivers in the league this year on slant routes, and the Packers just so happen to rank dead last in defending slant routes both by EPA/play and passer rating.
The Packers run a very zone heavy scheme, and for whatever reason they’ve been brutally bad at defending passes in the middle of their zones. That doesn’t bode well for their matchup against Prescott, Lamb, Ferguson, and the rest of these Cowboys. Their likely only hope is their pass rush - which ranks sixth in pressure rate - making enough of a difference. Even then, the Packers’ high pressure rate also coincides with them having the 10th-highest blitz rate, and Prescott has been one of the best passers against the blitz both this year and throughout his entire career.
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