The Dallas Cowboys welcomed QB Dak Prescott back to the field last Sunday and improved to 5-2 with a 24-6 victory over the Detroit Lions. While Prescott’s return was the story of the day, how did the entire team contribute to this important NFC victory? Once again, we’ll analyze the performance of each group in this week’s grades.
Cowboys Offense: C+
If you’ve followed these grading columns so far this year, you know that we’ve been giving the offense some grace during Cooper Rush’s run as the starter. While Dak’s return certainly brings the unit under some tougher scrutiny, this was also the first game back and it’s only fair to allow for a little turbulence on his re-entry.
Still, to have only managed one field goal in the first half against this opponent is hard to forgive. And given that Dak clearly should’ve been picked off at least once, plus WR Noah Brown’s fumble down near the goal line, it was a far uglier half of football than any chemistry or rhythm issues with the starting QB can simply excuse.
Thankfully, things turned around after halftime. Thanks in large part to Detroit’s five second-half turnovers, Dallas’ offense was able to take advantage of the opportunities and post three touchdowns. But even on two of those drives, the Cowboys still had to move the ball 82 and 54 yards to go get their points. The final score wasn’t all about the defense.
It was another nice day for running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. While Tony kept things moving with his 83 yards on just 12 carries, Zeke was the finisher with two redzone touchdowns. We’ve seen this outstanding tandem work between Elliott and Pollard all season and the team only seems to be getting smarter in how it utilizes both players.
The final grade may seem harsh given the final score, but the Cowboys are lucky they weren’t playing a better team. That was one of NFL’s worst defenses and yet Dallas couldn’t function against it until the 3rd quarter. They won’t get away with that too often.
Cowboys Defense: B+
If the offense gets downgraded for underperforming against a bad group, the Cowboys’ defense deserves extra credit for how it handled one of the NFL’s most productive offenses. Detroit came into this game with a top unit in yardage and scoring and was nearly shut down on both fronts.
Dallas’ pass rush once again stole the show. They got to QB Jared Goff five times and forced him into two interceptions and two lost fumbles. Rookie DE Sam Williams had his best game so far with two of those sacks and was joined by Micah Parsons, Dorance Armstrong, and Donovan Wilson for the others. Cornerbacks Trevon Diggs and Jourdan Lewis registered the picks.
While not part of the turnovers, LB Leighton Vander Esch had a standout game with his 10 tackles. While the Cowboys again struggled a bit against the run, giving up 4.7 yards per carry, we saw Vander Esch making the stop several times to prevent bigger gains and keep the Lions from marching the field.
The scary thing for the rest of the NFL is when they have to now face this group once Dallas’ offense is back to normal. We saw how Detroit fell apart once it was trying to come back from a deficit. We’re likely to see much more of that now with Dak’s return.
Cowboys Special Teams: B+
This unit just keeps shining only an almost weekly basis. Kicker Brett Maher is a completely different person from the guy we knew in 2018-2019, perfect from short range and now a model of reliability. Punter Bryan Anger, while still having an errant kick here and there, is still posting solid overall numbers and changing field position when needed.
KaVontae Turpin nearly housed another one, going 52 yards on a punt return and just one more missed tackle away from a touchdown. He’s become the most electric return man in football and his date with the endzone is only a matter of time.
Cowboys Coaches: B-
Again, that first half was ugly. And while you have to credit the coaches for the halftime adjustments, how did they enter this game so seemingly out of sorts?
This isn’t a knock on Dan Quinn. The defense held the Lions to six points despite that first-half ineptitude, then shut them out the rest of the way. He did his job and more, just as he has all season.
No, this really comes down Kellen Moore as the offensive coordinator. After weeks of seeing how the conservative, fundamentally-focused approach on offense worked for Cooper Rush, Moore tried to get cute again with Prescott back out there. This was the week to keep things simple and let Dak find his groove again before adding more wrinkles, and thankfully Detroit wasn’t good enough to make Kellen pay.
This has really been Moore’s problem for years. The issue with intelligent people is that they sometimes can’t accept the value of simplicity. They think that they’re being lazy or underachieving if they’re not coming up with something better, but sometimes you just can’t reinvent the wheel.
The Cowboys got away with their poor approach this week. Hopefully, they finally learned the lesson because future opponents may not be as forgiving.