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Offensive Review: Is play action the key to Dallas’ success?

Offensive Review: Is play action the key to Dallas’ success?

The Cowboys made a clear effort to improve the rushing attack when constructing their 2022 offensive line. Combine that with a well-constructed gameplan for a backup quarterback, and the Cowboys find themselves 2-1.

The Dallas offense rolled up 391 yards Monday night. They were efficient enough on third downs, converting five of 13 third downs. Cooper Rush was never sacked and the Cowboys were efficient on the ground to the tune of 5.9 yards per rush.

Dallas was efficient and effective, didn’t turn over the ball, and Kellen Moore called a very good game for Rush. That’s a recipe for how to get a primetime road win in a divisional matchup with a backup quarterback.

Cooper Rush: 21/31, 215 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT

Rush was efficient all night. His basic numbers would look a good bit better had CeeDee Lamb not dropped that deep pass from Rush that would have gained at least 50 or 60 yards and could have even been a touchdown.

Dallas certainly needs to be a bit better in the red zone, as Dallas left points on the board early in the game. But down 13-6 in the third quarter, Rush and the offense stepped up in a huge way. On Dallas’ ensuing two drives after it fell behind 13-6, here’s what Rush and the offense did:

  • 9 plays, 75 yards, 5:04 possession, Touchdown (13-13)
  • 11 plays, 89 yards, 6:12 possession, Touchdown (20-13)

These were two strong drives after the home team had all sorts of momentum with a raucous, white-out crowd in a primetime game. That typically can cause an offense, especially with a backup QB in, to fold.

On the first play of the drive in which Dallas trailed 13-6, Rush faced pressure and dropped one in the bucket to CeeDee Lamb up the left sideline for 17 yards. The Dallas offense was off to the races from there as the first throw to Lamb seemed to give Rush some confidence.

One thing that stuck out in the Dallas gameplan was the usage of play action.

As Bob Sturm of The Athletic it perfectly in this thread, “That is the difference between asking your QB to pass in running situations vs asking him to pass in passing situations.” Rush had no turnover-worthy plays and steered the ship calmly. That’s all you can ask of your backup quarterback. Kudos to Rush for another strong performance in Dak Prescott‘s absence.

Offensive Line

This was another strong performance from the big boys up front. Rush was only pressured six times and was not sacked. Terence Steele continued his strong start to the season as he was Dallas’ highest graded pass-blocker and didn’t surrender a single pressure, according to Pro Football Focus.

Tyler Smith also appears to be the left tackle of the future as many (including my own) pre-draft impressions of Smith appear to be violently wrong.

Smith allowed just one pressure Monday. His run blocking is his strength but the progress he has shown in technique with hand placement and balance is very impressive. Smith was Dallas’ highest graded run blocker Monday (and has the highest run-blocking grade of any rookie OL, per PFF). Smith’s athleticism was never in question, and you get to see some of it on this 27-yard run from Ezekiel Elliott. Look at big 73 moving in space!

Coming into the season Dallas had massive question marks at both tackle positions and it appears Smith and Steele have emphatically answered those questions.

Zack Martin continued his usual dominance as both he and Steele were moving bodies off the line of scrimmage all night long on that right side.

Tyler Biadasz didn’t have his best performance, but overall he continued his solid start to the season. This was probably his worst performance of the three games thus far, but Biadasz has been fine through three weeks.

Matt Farniok was much better this week following a rough first couple of weeks. He only gave up one pressure, but he may be moved back to the bench as soon as this week.

What Dallas does at the left guard position going forward will be interesting. Jason Peters worked in at left guard for 14 snaps and Connor McGovern should return from injury soon. It doesn’t seem like the original plan of Tyler Smith at left guard is in the cards anymore. He seems to have settled in at left tackle.

As Dallas ramps up the 40-year-old Peters more and more, it will be interesting where Peters plays going forward. Moving offensive lineman around the line, especially older ones like Peters, is very risky. Offensive line positions aren’t as interchangeable as everyone thinks. But if Peters does pan out at left guard, this offensive front is looking quite formidable.

Peters still has gas in the tank, and we got a taste of what a Smith-Peters left side might look like on this 46-yard run by Tony Pollard. Smith and Peters blast open a gaping hole on what was Peters’ first snap as a Cowboy and Pollard was off to the races.

The Zeke and Pollard Report

I’m adding this section to the weekly offensive review going forward (apologies for missing last week – two difficult exams unfortunately had to take priority in the college life). How Kellen Moore deploys his two talented backs is very interesting and should be tracked throughout the season.

This was the game I felt they did the best job of splitting the workload. Pollard is clearly more explosive, but Elliott provides power between the tackles and is a fantastic pass-blocker. Here are their stats from Monday:

  • Ezekiel Elliott: 15 carries, 73 yards, 4.9 yards per carry, 1 TD
  • Tony Pollard: 13 carries, 106 yards, 8.1 yards per carry

It was tough sledding at times as both of their per carry stats look a little bit more pedestrian when you take away Pollard’s 46-yard dash and Elliott’s 27-yard dash, but the rushing attack still produced 176 yards on 5.9 yards per carry.

It was also interesting that Pollard was used on Dallas’ closeout drive. I’m not sure I’ve seen them use Pollard as the closer before. That will be something to monitor.


Noah Brown continued his strong start with five catches for 54 yards. Brown has stepped up tremendously over the last couple weeks as we await Michael Gallup‘s imminent return.

CeeDee Lamb responded from his brutal drop in the first half with a terrific second half. He took over the game in the fourth quarter on Dallas’ go-ahead drive. On that drive, Lamb recorded:

  • 17-yard catch to the NYG 47
  • 4-yard catch to the NYG 37 on 4th and 4 for a massive first down
  • 26-yard catch to the NYG 1
  • 1-yard (and one-handed) TD catch to permanently take the lead

It was the type of drive you love to see from your alpha receiver. That second half on Monday felt like a big step forward for Lamb. To respond the way he did after that horrific drop in the first half showed a ton of maturity.

Jalen Tolbert saw his first action and record one catch. Simi Fehoko recorded a very nice 12-yard catch in the first half as well. Their development behind Lamb, Brown, and Gallup would help this offense tremendously.

Lastly, the rookie tight ends Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot shined in the absence of Dalton Schultz. Ferguson recorded two catches for 13 yards and Hendershot recorded three catches for 43 yards. Both displayed their strengths that Dallas loved in the preseason: Ferguson’s good hands and strong blocking ability as well as Hendershot’s playmaking and yards after catch ability.

Just about everyone on the offense has seemingly stepped up in Dak Prescott’s absence. With his return reportedly around the corner, the offense has a chance to get better as the season goes on. They’ll look to keep the momentum going Sunday against Washington.

Staff Writer covering the Dallas Cowboys || Co-Host of The Silver and Blue Podcast || Co-Host of The Victory Avenue Podcast

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