As the Cowboys were finishing out their season-opening disaster against Tampa Bay, things somehow went from awful to even worse. With a brutal offensive roster even with Dak Prescott, Dallas will be without its franchise quarterback for several games.
It’s hard to pick a singular issue to address with the offense. The Cowboys offense never even crossed the Tampa Bay 31 yard line. Yes, you read that right. Not only did they never make it to the red zone but they never even made it close to the red zone. Let’s dissect this disaster.
Dak Prescott: 14/29, 134 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT
Prescott turned in one of the worst performances of his career. Pro Football Focus would back that notion up as his grade of 37.4 is the second-worst single-game grade of his career. Prescott’s abilities as a quarterback are not in question though. He has a track record that spans six seasons of good-to-great quarterback play. He’ll occasionally put out a stinker, and he did so in epic fashion on Sunday.
That is before things got even worse as Prescott fractured his thumb late in the game. He had surgery Monday and the timeline for his return is reportedly four to six weeks. Four weeks seems incredibly wishful. I would anticipate Dallas being without Prescott for at least six weeks. It would be malpractice to rush your franchise cornerstone back out there, especially given how poor the offensive line protecting him appears to be.
Which leads me to the offensive line. The offensive front surrendered 14 pressures (two sacks). Tyler Smith was fine in his debut. He showed flashes of potential but he is going to have growing pains. His hand placement was a bit all over the place at times, but it was overall a positive performance for Smith given the circumstances. Tyler Biadasz was a bright spot as he held up well throughout the night. Zack Martin was Zack Martin.
Left guard and right tackle were a borderline disaster. Connor McGovern went down with a high ankle sprain and Matt Farniok stepped in for the rest of the game. Farniok surrendered six pressures and received an abysmal pass blocking grade of 26.7 from PFF. Terence Steele graded out decently and gave up just two pressures but his four penalties were killers as he was flagged for three false starts and a hold. Those pre-snap penalties simply cannot happen. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore‘s comments as well as Jerry Jones‘ comments since Sunday have indicated Steele’s job may be in jeopardy if those issues aren’t fixed now.
Kellen Moore said if guys can’t cut down on presnap penalties someone else needs to play.
— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) September 12, 2022
Jerry Jones on @1053thefan said he was “really proud” of how Tyler Smith played Sunday at left tackle. Said he also liked what he saw from center Tyler Biadasz.
On Jason Peters: “We’ll have a spot for him. He can play both tackles. There are all kinds of combinations there.”
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) September 13, 2022
The running game was solid until Dallas had to abandon it. Ezekiel Elliott averaged over five yards per carry and there appears to be a little something with this rushing attack. Elliott looked healthy and fresh throughout. With Prescott out, Dallas is going to need to lean on its rushing attack a bit more. Tony Pollard had just eight yards on six carries. Dallas needs to do a much better job of getting Pollard going, but Elliott was effective.
It was an unmitigated disaster with the wideouts as well. There was little to no separation, the route concepts were very basic and didn’t stress the defense vertically at all, and the fears of the lack of talent in the receiving room outside of CeeDee Lamb are confirmed.
Noah Brown has been a WR5 or WR6 his entire career. He is a fine down-roster receiver that has decent blocking ability. You cannot seriously trot him out as your WR2. There isn’t a defensive coordinator in the league that is concerned with Brown. Dennis Houston (UDFA) and Simi Fehoko (2021 5th-round pick) had nice camps. But they are nowhere close to being high-caliber NFL receivers at this point.
Combine this with the fact that the one NFL-caliber receiver Dallas ran out there turned in a stinker of his own, and you get what you saw on Sunday: one of the worst offensive performances in recent memory. Lamb caught just two of his 10 targets and was credited with a drop. Tampa Bay wasn’t scared of anyone not named CeeDee Lamb and was constantly bracketing Lamb with two or even three defenders. Brown, Houston, and Fehoko didn’t do nearly enough to take some attention away from Lamb.
Dalton Schultz was reliable as he caught seven of his eight targets, but most of his production was on underneath routes when no one else was open. Schultz’s average depth of target was 6.9 yards.
Todd Archer put out a statistic that reflects how tight the windows were in the passing game:
Wondered about Cowboys WRs separation Sunday and got the help from @ESPNStatsInfo: Among the 87 WRs with at least 3 targets before Monday, CeeDee Lamb ranked 69th (2.11), Dennis Houston 67th (2.13), Noah Brown 31st (3.36), Simi Fehoko 20th (3.92) according to NFL Next Gen Stats
— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) September 13, 2022
It’s hard to see this passing attack improving without some sort of outside addition. Lamb needs to step up in a big way. When Michael Gallup returns in the next week or two, how healthy will he look? Brown/Houston/Fehoko are not the answer.
2022 third-rounder Jalen Tolbert was inactive Sunday. I liked Tolbert a lot coming out of the draft, but if he is a healthy scratch in this receiver room? Uh-oh. Maybe there are some outside additions that can be made, but this front office has generally refused to acknowledge that idea. For now, Dallas better pray Gallup gets up to speed quickly.
Let’s scapegoat another offensive coordinator
We’ve done the same song and dance for the last 20 or so years. This coach needs to go! This coordinator needs to go! It goes on and on. Kellen Moore has his warts as an OC, but he generally has produced results as Dallas has been one of the best offenses in football when Prescott has been healthy.
Could his offense be more creative? Sure. Could we use more pre-snap motion? Sure. But there’s one common denominator over the last two (going on three here pretty soon!) decades, and it’s the braintrust at the top of the franchise. They want to win their antiquated way as they did nearly 30 years ago. It’s not a coincidence the creativity and pre-snap motion all but disappeared from the offense after hot starts in 2019 and 2021.
You’re fooling yourself if you think these calls aren’t coming from up top. The Jones braintrust isn’t directly calling the plays, but their influence is evident. Kellen Moore isn’t perfect, but once he is let go at some point down the road, we’ll do the same thing with the next OC and the next OC. It’s an endless cycle.
This is a longer conversation for another longer article someday, but given the discourse about Moore this week, this needed to be said.
I’m not the biggest fan of Moore’s, but let’s not kid ourselves. That disaster of an offense we saw Sunday night is a product of the front office’s blunders, no matter how much Stephen Jones will try to deflect blame on the salary cap, or a lack of preseason reps, or Lamb not stepping up. Without Prescott for the next several weeks, buckle up, because this might get ugly.
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