The Dallas Cowboys just had one of the loudest statement wins so far in the 2022 NFL season. A visiting team in Minnesota last Sunday, they crushed the previously 8-1 Vikings in a lopsided 40-3 outcome that put the rest of the league on notice. You don’t get a score like that without a great all-around effort, so let’s continue the celebration a little longer and hand out the grades.
Naturally, there isn’t much negative you can say after such a definitive victory. It would be impressive even against a mediocre team. But the circumstances of how the Cowboys looked the previous week in Green Bay, the Vikings’ record coming in, and the stakes for Dallas in terms of their foothold in the NFC and playoff picture just made it all the sweeter.
Cowboys Offense: A
The offensive performance was a model for efficient, dominant football. Dallas scored on seven-straight possessions, keeping the punter sidelined until they’d already built a 37-3 lead and were playing keep away in the third quarter. The only reason they’re not getting an “A+” for this game was that so many drives did end in field goals, especially the first one that was set up at Minnesota’s 27-yard-line by a fumble recovery. It would be nice to see the Cowboys closing the deal with touchdowns a little more.
QB Dak Prescott had his best game of the season and one of the better of his career. His overall production of 276 yards and two touchdowns was nothing special, but it was the 22-of-25 passing and 139.3 passer rating that really tell you how good Dak was. The execution was sharp from the opening play. The stats would’ve been more voluminous in a closer battle where the Cowboys didn’t go conservative in the second half.
One guy whose stats weren’t hampered by the blowout was RB Tony Pollard, who was both the leading rusher and receiver. His 80 yards on the ground were outshined by the 109 yards and two touchdowns receiving, both career highs along with a new high in total yardage. And when Pollard was struggling to punch the ball in at the goal line, in came Ezekiel Elliott to handle business. Zeke’s two rushing scores reminded everyone of his value and that this is still a two-headed monster.
While WR CeeDee Lamb had a quiet five catches for 45 yards, it’s worth noting that he was only targeted five times all day. Prescott obviously didn’t miss much at all in this game, but it’s nice to see the increased efficiency when he looks for #88. That will pay dividends as the season continues. We also saw some nice work from Michael Gallup early, looking more like his old self with tough grabs against coverage.
Cowboys Defense: A
Now that was the Cowboys defense we remember! Allowing just 183 total yards and one field goal all day, Dallas played exactly the way you wanted after the spanking they took from the Packers the week before.
It started immediately with Micah Parsons’ strip-sack of QB Kirk Cousins on the third play of the game. It was the first of seven times that Cousins was sacked; two each from Parsons and Dorance Armstrong and others from DeMarcus Lawrence, Dante Fowler Jr., and Jayron Kearse. It’s amazing Kirk didn’t throw any picks given the duress, but that’s partially because he could barely even get the ball in the air. Still, CB Trevon Diggs nearly snagged one in circus fashion.
The story going in was how Dallas would stop Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook. While he did get 72 yards on just 11 carries, the rest of the game helped mitigate the threat and forced the Vikings to abandon the run. They probably did it too early and didn’t lean on their best weapon enough, but the Cowboys obviously did a better job of containing the run this week than against Green Bay or at other points this year. There’s still work to be done, but it was definitely an improvement.
Cowboys Special Teams: A+
Brett Maher is giving Dallas its best kicking season in a long time. Even Dan Bailey would be jealous at this point; Maher’s 90.5% overall accuracy and long-range heroics are as good as anything I remember. That sequence at the end of the first half with the 60-yard make, bogus review, and then making it again even better than the first time was legendary. At this rate, Brett is on his way to the Pro Bowl and a new contract.
We’re still waiting for that KaVontae Turpin house call, but he did give us a 20-yard punt return and continues to dazzle on even short gains. Turpin is able to find yards where few others could thanks to his quickness. A visit to the endzone feels inevitable.
Cowboys Coaches: A+
After an embarrassing display last week coming out of the bye, the coaches clearly did the right things this week. No doubt they used the Packers’ loss to fuel this effort, and the way the defense played especially showed a fire had been lit. Mike McCarthy’s team was ready, focused, and redeemed themselves nicely.
But beyond just motivation, the strategy was also on point. Kellen Moore called a great game as they neutralized the Vikings’ pass rushers with quick passes, RPOs, and play action. Minnesota came into this week as one of the top sacks teams in the NFL and left with zero.
We talked about Dallas’ improvement in defending the run already. Not only did Dan Quinn’s crew do that but they also kept WR Justin Jefferson, many people’s pick for the NFL’s best WR, to a meager three catches for 33 yards. Usually, an 8-1 team makes your pick your poison. But on this day, Quinn had the antidote for everything Minnesota wanted to do.
One guy who deserves a shout-out is Special Teams Coordinator John Fassel. Lest we forget, they’re working with a makeshift long snapper in Matt Overton after losing Jake McQuaide in October. That Brett Maher is doing what he’s doing, both just from his personal improvement and the circumstances around him, is a credit to Fassel and his deserved reputation as a special teams guru.