The Dallas Cowboys didn’t just win on Monday night. Their 31-14 drubbing of Tampa Bay, on the road in the first round of the 2022 playoffs, was arguably the franchise’s most impressive postseason victory since the 90s. Naturally, the Cowboys earned high marks for their performance in this week’s grades.
It’s not straight A’s, though. There were certainly some mitigating factors and opportunities for improvement, particularly considering the Buccaneers’ dubious credibility compared to the 49ers and other potential opponents still to come. As good as that win felt, Dallas can hardly rest on its laurels as it prepares for the second round game in San Francisco.
Cowboys Offense: A-
Under the bright lights and with decades of mounting pressure on them, the Cowboys offense put up its best game of the season so far. It all started up top with QB Dak Prescott, who may have had the single-best performance of his career. With five totals touchdowns, four passing and one rushing, Dak not only topped his personal postseason best but put himself in the same sentences with Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman for all-time playoff performances by Dallas quarterbacks. Beyond just the scoring and 305 passing yards, Prescott’s efficiency and zero turnovers showed a player in complete control of himself, his offense, and as in the zone as we’ve ever seen him.
TE Dalton Schultz was the best of the receivers, hauling in seven catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns. We also saw receivers CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup step up with a touchdown each, plus some other key catches. The longest offensive play of the night belonged to TE Jake Ferguson, who used good blocking on a 34-yard gain that helped set up Dak’s rushing touchdown in the second quarter.
RB Tony Pollard led the rushing attack with 77 yards on 15 carries. His speed was crucial as Ezekiel Elliott wasn’t having much success on his touches. Pollard’s extra burst was the key element to taking advantage of the limited opportunities presented by Tampa’s tough defensive front.
Getting C Tyler Biadasz back no doubt helped the offensive line have such a strong night. They only gave up one sack and Prescott enjoyed some generous time in the pocket on several plays. Even when LT Jason Peters went out later in the game, Tyler Smith slid back in his place and keep up the solid play.
Cowboys Defense: B
It’d be easy to throw wreaths at the defense for how well they handled a Tom Brady-led offense, but there were still some points of concern. Individually, certain guys like LB Micah Parsons, S Donovan Wilson, and LB Leighton Vander Esch had outstanding games. Plenty of other guys came up big in key moments, and DB Israel Mukuamu was surprisingly strong as the slot corner.
Still, Tampa Bay had over 400 yards of total offense. Most of that came through the air; 351 passing yards and both of the Bucs’ touchdowns. The volume is a bit exaggerated because of the Bucs’ offensive imbalance with 66 pass attempts versus just 12 rushes. But even when they did occasionally hand it off, Tampa’s runners managed 52 yards on only 12 carries.
Dallas still has matchup issues with top receivers. WR Chris Godwin had 10 catches for 85 yards and Brady was able to connect with Mike Evans and Julio Jones several times as well. Jones was the recipient of a 30-yard touchdown catch with CB DaRon Bland in coverage, showing that the Cowboys are still susceptible to big plays even against a team that isn’t known for them.
Overall, holding Tampa to just 14 points at home was a great night for this side of the ball. Getting Vander Esch back was much bigger to this group than I think many would have expected. Hopefully, they can build on this good night and prepare for more playoff-worthy competition in the next game.
Cowboys Special Teams: C-
We all know what this grade’s about. Brett Maher’s four missed extra-point attempts were one of the viral talking points of the night. After two misses wide right, he pushed the third one left in a classic case of overcompensation. The last miss again went right, and then Maher finally hit knocked one down the middle on his last attempt for a sigh of relief. After only having one true miss in 53 regular-season attempts (two others were blocked), hopefully this can be written off as a fluke. Dallas appears to be taking that approach and has voiced support of Maher going forward, who was arguably a Pro Bowl snub for how he’s played this season overall.
There were no big issues in other aspects of special teams. KaVontae Turpin nearly broke loose on a 35-yard kickoff return that at least set Dallas up with good field position. P Bryan Anger helped set up Tampa with long fields on some well-placed punts. Best of all, there were none of the sloppy plays we saw last week in Washington that could have derailed this game quickly.
Cowboys Coaches: A+
You really can’t say enough about how mentally and emotionally prepared the Cowboys were for this game. The coaches did an outstanding job of managing all the pressure, whether it was from the Week 18 collapse against the Coimmanders, the talk of Dallas’ longstanding postseason futility, Tom Brady’s undefeated record against the Cowboys, or any other talking point you had throughout the week. The team seemed to either tune it out or even turned into fuel, and that’s a huge feather in the cap of Mike McCarthy and his team for how they worked with the players.
It was also an outstanding game for Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore. His group looked as synchronized as we’ve seen them all year. Kellen seemed to have the Bucs’ number most of the night as the play-action led to wide open receivers and Dak was able to nearly walk in on his rushing touchdown. Moore also did a nice job of leaning on strengths and not forcing the issue with the run game, particularly with how Pollard was clearly more effective than Elliott on every touch.