The Dallas Cowboys were up against a short week and playing on the road in their penultimate regular-season game against the Tennessee Titans. Still, they came away victorious in the Thursday Night Football showdown and helped keep some lofty postseason goals in play going into the final week.
How did the Cowboys’ various units contribute to the win? What issues manifested that the team needs to address before the playoffs? We’ll get into that and more with this week’s grades.
Cowboys Offense: B-
Going up against the NFL’s 25th-ranked defense probably should have led to more production for Dallas. But between the limited rest and practice time, plus a mid-game injury to C Tyler Biadasz, the Cowboys should be forgiven for not firing on all cylinders.
QB Dak Prescott played a mostly solid game with 282 yards and two touchdowns on 70% passing. He did add two more interceptions to the season; another week where one was clearly on the receiver and the other appearing to be either a bad read or throw from Prescott. While the high INT total in 2022 has plenty of mitigating factors, there’s no denying that Dak’s had an uncharacteristic penchant for turnovers this year and definitely need to figure that out before the tournament.
Two guys who weren’t hampered by the circumstances were WR CeeDee Lamb and TE Dalton Schultz. With 11 catches for 100 yards, Lamb continued his ascension into the upper echelon of NFL receivers. Schultz had arguably his best game of the year with seven catches for 56 yards and two touchdowns, reminding people how he earned the franchise tag this past spring.
With no Tony Pollard and the injury in the middle of the line to Biadasz, it was a tough day for the run game. Ezekiel Elliott saw little daylight and only had 37 yards on 19 carries, albeit with a touchdown. Rookie Malik Davis got the change-up reps in Pollard’s absence and showed some impressive speed and quickness, though only resulted in 10 carries for 39 yards.
Cowboys Defense: B
Short weeks seem to be harder on the defense, especially this late into the season. But despite the lack of rest and missing LB Leighton Vander Esch, the Cowboys performed admirably. Overall they held Tennessee to just 317 total yards and 13 points, and both of the field goals came off Dallas’ offensive turnovers.
It was a big night for second-year CB Nahshon Wright, who’s now getting a chance to run with the first team after Kelvin Joseph’s poor performance. Wright had his first NFL interception and led the team in tackles in his first career start. While Nahshon will face much tougher tests in the playoffs, it was an encouraging sign for what he could do now and in upcoming seasons as a developing prospect.
One of the big questions coming out of this game was if Titans QB Joshua Dobbs is better than we realized or if the Dallas defense allowed him to shine. Dobbs had only attempted 17 passes since entering the NFL in 2017, but the former 4th-round pick by the Steelers looked poised and executed well at times. His final stat line wasn’t great, just under 50% passing for 232 yards, but a few drops and penalties took some potentially game-changing plays off the board. Hopefully this was more about the quarterback’s unknown ability, otherwise, the Cowboys may be in line for heavy damage from better passers in the postseason.
Though aided by the absence of RB Derrick Henry, Tennessee still didn’t have much success on the ground. They only averaged 4.0 yards per carry, and that number was boosted significantly by a single 20-yard trick play to WR Treylon Burks. Overall, even without Vander Esch manning the middle, Dallas once again looked much better against the run than earlier this year.
Cowboys Special Teams: B
Yet another solid showing without any big highs or damaging lows. Brett Maher went two-for-two on field goals with a long of 45 yards. He’s now climbed over 90% on the year and also finished Week 17 as the NFL’s leading scorer with 137 total points. Bryan Anger and KaVontae Turpin also handled their duties well, not having any major moments for good or bad. Sometimes, a quiet night is better than being one of the goats of the game.
Cowboys Coaches: B
Sure, things were sloppy at times and you’d like to have seen a more dominant performance against a middling team that rested a lot of their starters. But given the short week and coming off a major victory over the Eagles, these coaches shouldn’t catch too much criticism for a 14-point win on the road against a potential AFC playoff team.
We especially have to appreciate the work Dan Quinn is doing running a defense with a lot of spare parts. He’s worked through injuries at linebacker and cornerback, plus the decreasing impact from LB Micah Parsons as the superstar is clearly playing through nagging issues.
Speaking of coaches, and going back to the comments about Maher, it’s important to note that John Fassel wasn’t in Dallas the last time that Brett was our kicker in 2018-2019. While there could plenty of factors at work in Maher’s newfound greatness, Fassel’s likely impact shouldn’t be ignored. After two years of being overly loyal to Greg Zuerlein, it’s nice to finally see the special teams guru paying off for us at kicker.
Mike McCarthy just might be in the Coach of the Year discussion if not for the team’s ugly losses to Green Bay and Jacksonville. But despite that, he just picked up his 12th win and could easily finish 13-4 and as a top NFC contender going into the playoffs. Even when it’s not pretty, like last Thursday night, McCarthy’s Cowboys are finding ways to win and showing mental toughness after bad plays or when momentum starts swinging the wrong way. It could always be better, but don’t let pessimism cloud the fact that McCarthy’s doing a solid job.