The 2022 season ended for the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night. Not all losses are measured equally, and this one came with plenty of low points as Dallas didn’t look the part of a contender in their defeat from the San Francisco 49ers.
In this final postgame report card for the Cowboys, we’ll look at who the biggest culprits were in the elimination. We’ll also look at some players who did their part to help the team but were ultimately undermined by others.
Cowboys Offense: D
The only thing keeping this grade from being an “F” was losing RB Tony Pollard to injury in the second quarter. While he’s only garnered 22 yards on six carries up to that point, Pollard was Dallas’ best chance for some offensive momentum later in the game and his absence was felt. Ezekiel Elliott, averaging just 2.6 yards per carry on the night, simply wasn’t the back they needed against that defense.
That said, boy did QB Dak Prescott not leave himself much room for mercy. After all the praise from his huge game against Tampa Bay in the first round, Dak went full Jekyll again with some poor decisions that led to two interceptions. He would have had a couple more if the 49ers’ defenders hadn’t dropped them. And while a couple of turnovers can be overcome with otherwise high production, Prescott didn’t provide that with just 206 yards on 62% passing, only scoring one touchdown on a pass to TE Dalton Schultz. It was one of Dak’s poorest performances at the absolute worst of times.
While he did help with the Cowboys’ only touchdown of the game, Schultz also had some bad gaffes on the team’s final drive. He took a lazy angle out of bounds which failed to stop the clock, then later didn’t make any effort to get a second foot down on a sideline catch that ultimately was ruled incomplete. It reinforced the notion that Dalton, while a perfectly good TE who can post big numbers in a high-volume offense, isn’t the special kind of playmaker like we saw in the 49ers’ George Kittle.
Lamb was a bright spot
One guy who didn’t let the offense down was WR CeeDee Lamb, who came up big with 10 catches for 117 yards and some tough grabs against tight coverage. While Dallas has plenty of work to do to improve their offensive firepower this offseason, it’s comforting to know that Lamb has fully emerged as the primary receiver and will be a strength moving forward.
The offensive line also did its part. Rushing success was going to be hard against arguably the best run defense in the league, and losing Pollard guaranteed that struggle. But they mostly kept Prescott’s pockets clean, only giving up one sack and allowing Dak plenty of time to read. Whatever pressure our quarterback cracked under, it wasn’t coming from the 49ers’ pass rush.
Cowboys Defense: B
For the most part, the defense did its job and was failed by the other side of the ball. Only allowing 312 yards of total offense and 19 points, six of which came after offensive turnovers, you can’t find much blame for the Cowboys defenders.
Missed opportunities are about the only knock you can have for them. The most glaring was a dropped interception by CB Trevon Diggs in the redzone, albeit off a deflected pass with little reaction time. That would have taken points off the board for San Francisco and perhaps been the momentum boost Dallas sorely needed. There was also a bad sequence of defensive holding penalties by S Donovan Wilson and DT Jonathan Hankins which helped keep a 49ers drive going that resulted in a touchdown.
The defense started hot by shutting down the run game, particularly on the heroics of DE DeMarcus Lawrence. But they wore down over time and San Francisco was able to chew clock in the second half. But had the offense done its part throughout the game, the Niners would have had to lean more on QB Brock Purdy and that would have set up Micah Parsons and others to make more plays.
Cowboys Special Teams: B
Brett Maher only got to attempt one extra point and it was blocked. Was it going wide left before it got hit? Maybe, but you never know how it might have traveled has San Francisco not interfered. Still, Maher went two-for-two on fields goals and doesn’t deserve any grief from this game.
KaVontae Turpin had one of his best efforts, setting up Dallas with good field position and multiple kickoffs. His best was a 44-yarder, but had he taken another angle there’s a good chance that Turpin would’ve finally found the endzone. Given how this game went, that potential missed touchdown might have made all the difference.
We don’t often get to talk about the coverage units but Kelvin Joseph made a great individual play when he punched the ball away from Ray-Ray McCloud III and Dallas recovered the fumble. The kickoff return team allowed Ray-Ray to get revenge on the very next touch, though, with a 53-yard return.
Cowboys Coaches: D+
The only positives here were Dan Quinn and John Fassel’s work having their units ready to play. The defense was clearly fired up and prepared for what the 49ers do on offense, mostly containing Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel throughout the night. And Fassel’s special teams group mostly came up big, especially whatever they did during the week to help Brett Maher get his head back on straight.
But the offensive issues were truly abysmal. Kellen Moore is obviously the biggest culprit as coordinator, but Mike McCarthy is also an offensive guy. The fact that so much of the blame falls at Dak Prescott’s feet is a group failure among all who have his ear.
Moore’s future in Dallas should really be questioned as this point. He doesn’t seem to understand how to leverage strengths and mitigate weaknesses. That RB Malik Davis had no touches after Pollard’s injury, given how ineffective Elliott was, is truly baffling. It just feels like a coach who is more concerned about proving things in games instead of winning them.
As for McCarthy, I keep seeing this praise for the fact that his players never stop fighting. That’s all well and good, but we used to the same thing about Jason Garrett’s Cowboys for many seasons. Many of these same players were the ones who eventually seemed to stop fighting for Garrett in 2019. After three years and back-to-back playoff failures, how long will McCarthy’s voice still resonate with this roster?