While the Cowboys weren’t quite as strong overall as in their Week 3 victory over the New York Giants, they benefitted from a weaker opponent and put up a more impressive margin in the 25-10 win over Washington. Once again, we’re going to break down each unit’s contributions and grade their performance.
Cowboys Offense: B
While they only had 279 yards of total offense on the day, the Cowboys made plays in key moments and finished enough drives with touchdowns to put this opponent down. They also went conservative later in the game when preserving their lead, which factored in the low statistical production.
The ground game was shut down by Washington’s strong defensive front, managing just a 2.1 yard average and a long run of only nine yards on the day. Even with starter Connor McGovern back in at left guard, the Commanders’ beef up front was hard for Dallas to maneuver around. Ezekiel Elliott managed to grind out a tough 49 yards carries, and Tony Pollard had a miserable day with only six yards on his eight attempts.
The way the run game was stymied actually makes the passing performance even more impressive. QB Cooper Rush continued his storybook tale with another solid outing; 223 yards and two touchdowns. While only completing 55.6% of his passes, Rush continued his streak of no interceptions in 2022 and had a career-best 107.5 passer rating. The two-TD performance was his first time with multiple scoring throws since his first win as a starter against the Minnesota Vikings in 2021.
Rush’s receivers didn’t let him down when the ball came their way. CeeDee Lamb had a WR1-worthy drive early in the game, getting catches on three consecutive plays for 56 total yards that set up an eventual field goal. He finished the day with six receptions for 97 yards and a touchdown. Michael Gallup returned and immediately got back in the endzone with just his second catch of the season.
The one guy that appears to still need some time, whether it’s with his knee or in building chemistry with Rush, is TE Dalton Schultz. Dallas came up empty on three targets to their franchise tight end.
While the offensive line didn’t set up the running backs for success, they were excellent in pass protection. Rush was only sacked once and had plenty of time in the pocket on many plays. It was also a very good day for penalties as only C Tyler Biadasz was flagged for a single false start. LT Tyler Smith remains mostly unblemished so far and the rest of the line is performing nicely. They are a major factor in the backup quarterback’s perfect record.
Cowboys Defense: B
The pass defense gets an “A” and the run defense gets a “C” or worse, so let’s just call it a “B” for this game. We’re always more generous of a rivalry win, aren’t we?
Sometimes teams are willing to sacrifice rushing yards in the name of focusing on the pass and keeping points off the board. While we hate seeing Washington gain 142 total rushing yards at a 5.3 average, they weren’t able to capitalize on that with more than 10 points. The total scheme worked well and accomplished the most important goal.
After watching the Eagles get nine sacks on Carson Wentz last week, only two from the Cowboys defense felt a little underwhelming. But the Commanders clearly tried to protect their QB with a lot of quick passes, play-action, and other calls designed to limit Dallas’ opportunities. But the Cowboys also adjusted, responding well in various moments and making individual plays to keep Washington out of rhythm all day.
The two sacks came from less likely heroes in DE Dante Fowler Jr. and DT Neville Gallimore. Dallas also had two picks courtesy of CBs Trevon Diggs and rookie DaRon Bland, playing in his first career game. Diggs was highlighted several times for his outstanding coverage outside of the pick, deflecting three other passes. Bland was also noted for his coverage in the endzone on a failed attempt to WR Curtis Samuel.
S Donovan Wilson led the team with nine tackles, some on crucial stops, and fellow safety Malik Hooker and LB Leighton Vander Esch were right behind him with eight apiece.
Again, Washington’s rushing production wasn’t pretty to watch. But it appeared that Dallas was focused on shutting down Carson Wentz and hopefully forcing him into mistakes.
Cowboys Special Teams: C+
A blocked extra point and a shanked punt could have had a much greater impact against a better opponent. Thankfully, Washington wasn’t able to make Dallas pay for these miscues. But that doesn’t make them any more trivial in the grand scheme; things the Cowboys can’t afford to have in their upcoming contests with the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles.
Still, it wasn’t a bad day overall. Brett Maher went 4/4 on his field goals, improving to 91% on the year, and Bryan Anger was otherwise his Pro Bowl self outside of the one shank. The coverage units did their job as well, limiting the Commanders to just eight total return yards on two punts. Peyton Hendershot had a nice tackle on a kickoff return that started Washingtoin behind their own 20.
P Tress Way for Washington is one of the best in the business and helped contain KaVontae Turpin. Dallas’ dynamic returner only tried to return one punt and lost three yards after a few dance moves.
Cowboys Coaches: A
Even on a day when the final stats weren’t glowing, Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore had little shame in his game. The efforts to get CeeDee Lamb the ball early paid off, as did a few other calls throughout the game that resulted in big yardage. Dallas was able to move the ball without its running attack and that’s a huge credit to the coordinator. Moore also deserves tons of praise for the way Cooper Rush continues to manage things with poise and clear command of the offense.
Really, what more can be said about Dan Quinn? His defense is why the Cowboys are 3-1 and not the reverse, or even winless, so far this year. One play that really stood out to me was when the Commanders tried to go hurry up on a short-yardage play to keep Dallas from substituting in its bigger defensive front. We saw Micah Parsons and Leighton Vander Esch managing the A-gaps but the team adjusted, handled their assignments, and still shut down the play. That was all about preparation, and thus all about the guy who prepares them.
Mike McCarthy is going to make it hard to say goodbye if he keeps this up. We shouldn’t get too carried away as the last three opponents haven’t been very impressive otherwise this season. But if the Cowboys compete well in these next games, with or without Dak Prescott, there will be less heat under McCarthy’s seat going forward.
Of course, ultimately McCarthy’s future will come down to what this team does in January. But just keeping the postseason a possibility now is a big feather in his cap. So is the way the team continues to play with maximum effort, and the dramatic reduction in penalties the last two weeks compared to earlier this season.