It’s not often that you win road games (let alone against the Super Bowl champs) with 10 first downs and just 16 offensive points. Make no mistake, this win streak is because of the defense and Dak Prescott‘s return will be welcomed.
As stated above, 10 first downs, 33 percent on third down, 239 yards, and just 102 passing yards is not a recipe for success in the NFL. Despite the narrative coming from some of the talking heads in the media, Dallas is not winning because of Cooper Rush‘s offense. The Cowboys at first were winning with Rush, but as defenses have begun to figure out tendencies as he has put more tape out, they now appear to be winning in spite of him.
Rush is doing just enough and is not making the devastating mistakes that backup QBs tend to do, but the Dallas offense now appears to just be treading water at this point. Let’s take a look at Sunday’s output.
The discourse of "this offense is working so don't change anything" is just tremendous results-based enthusiasm. Can it sustain? There are almost no teams in NFL history who win games under 300 yards many times and make the playoffs. And by almost none, I give you the 2005 Bears. pic.twitter.com/xZeI9K3l1W
— Bob Sturm (@SportsSturm) October 10, 2022
Cooper Rush: 10/16, 102 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
The first thing I’ve been checking when it comes to Rush each week is his numbers on play action. They’ve been very good and Kellen Moore has leaned on play action heavily when calling games for Rush, especially on early downs.
After hovering at roughly 50 percent through his first three starts, Moore only called play action on 15.8 percent of Rush’s 19 dropbacks. I would assume this mainly has to do with the pressure the Rams were getting Sunday as this was probably the worst protection Rush had out of his four starts. He simply didn’t have time in the pocket for the longer-developing deep shots down the field.
Now I don’t want to sound too negative with Rush. As I have said every week, he is doing exactly what you could hope a backup QB would do: not kill you and keep you in the game when leaning on the defense. He has made multiple timely throws in his time starting and that stuff matters with a backup QB. I think this week his timeliest throw was the incredible third and 15 conversion to Michael Gallup with a remarkable toe-drag catch from Gallup.
In general, Rush was fine on Sunday but the limitations are clear. It hasn’t happened yet, but things are much easier when playing with a lead. I fear how this unit will look if Dallas falls behind early on Sunday. It sounds like it will be Rush for possibly one more week this week before Prescott returns, but make no mistake: going 4-0 with Rush has been a tremendous success and has saved the season.
Things were a bit rocky for the big boys up front Sunday. Terence Steele was yet again a bright spot and has continued his outstanding 2021 season. It isn’t All-Pro level stuff from Steele at RT, but he has been everything you could have hoped for so far in 2022. Steele allowed just one pressure Sunday, bringing his season-long tally to five. He also hasn’t committed a penalty since his ghastly four penalties on opening night.
At the other tackle position I think we got Tyler Smith‘s first official “Welcome to the NFL” moment this week. Smith was manhandled by Aaron Donald for two sacks in the first half (as Donald tends to d0), and he received an overall grade of 49.9 from Pro Football Focus. Smith generally settled down in the second half and he started getting some help when isolated with Donald, but it was not pretty at first.
It was a tough day on the interior. Tyler Biadasz was tabbed with three pressures, Connor McGovern surrendered two, and even Zack Martin gave up three pressures. Aaron Donald had his way all across the offensive line as he registered six pressures (the only Ram who recorded more than one). You know it’s a tough day up front when even Martin has a rough outing. He received a brutal pass-blocking grade of 19.2 from PFF.
Martin will be better going forward and return to his All-Pro form, and Biadasz has generally been solid for Dallas so far. But there appears to be a serious issue at LG. McGovern has struggled mightily since his return from his ankle injury and Matt Farniok was even worse in place of McGovern. The only other option appears to be 40-year-old Jason Peters, who is playing LG for the first time in his career, and even Peters is banged up after missing last week with a chest injury. Peters is slated to play Sunday, but the situation at left guard might be a season-long issue.
Despite the struggles, the offensive line deserves a lot of credit on the 57-yard touchdown run by Tony Pollard. After all, it was the only offensive touchdown of the day. McGovern sealed off Donald on the backside of the outside zone, and Biadasz and Martin moved bodies (Martin made two terrific blocks). It was about as beautiful of an outside zone rep as you’ll see. Check out the All-22 angle below:
Pollard versus both safeties 26-Burgess and 33-Scott is awesome. pic.twitter.com/b5Xnl5Z9ls
— Bob Sturm (@SportsSturm) October 11, 2022
The Zeke and Pollard Report
Here is the breakdown of the two backs’ workloads:
- Tony Pollard: 8 attempts, 86 yards, 10.8 yards per rush 1 TD
- Ezekiel Elliott: 22 attempts, 78 yards, 3.5 yards per rush
This was another week where I wasn’t thrilled with the split of workload between the two backs. Pollard is so clearly the more explosive back. There is no reason Elliott should be receiving 14 more carries than Pollard. Dallas’ three longest plays from scrimmage have all been Tony Pollard touches.
With that said, generally I have been happy with their workloads so far. They have much clearer roles than they did last year and are being deployed as such. Pollard is the more explosive back and is a playmaker for the offense, while Elliott has been pounding the rock between the tackles. They seem to be doing a better job of not asking Elliott to do the things Pollard excels at (this was an issue last year).
There isn’t a whole lot here. Rush threw for just 102 yards. Only three players caught a pass Sunday. In fact, it’s not often you see a team go an entire game (let alone win a game) without completing a single pass to a running back or a tight end.
CeeDee Lamb finished with five catches for 53 yards while Michael Gallup had four catches for 44 yards. Noah Brown recorded just one catch for five yards. Lamb and Gallup both made timely plays like Gallup’s aforementioned highlight reel toe-drag catch (see below).
According to @NextGenStats, this 26-yard completion from Cooper Rush to Michael Gallup on Sunday had a completion probability of 8.2%, the third-most improbable completion in the NFL this seasonpic.twitter.com/l16no5c0Up
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) October 12, 2022
But Lamb and Gallup both had crucial dropped passes that would have been magnified much more had Dallas not won. Gallup’s was assuredly the worse of the two drops, but when playing with a backup QB, the margin for error is even slimmer. That cannot happen and it happened twice in two big spots Sunday.
A quick note on Dalton Schultz: I mentioned last week that his value will return some when Prescott returns. His rapport with Prescott is very strong and he will be more productive with QB1 back soon, but Schultz does not seem healthy. He could stand to sit for a week or two and get fully healthy. Dallas will need him later in the year. I understand that he is playing for a contract, but he is clearly not right and seems stiff and slow out of his breaks. It sounds like he will be a go on Sunday against Philadelphia, so I hope he appears healthier than he did in Los Angeles.
Up next is arguably the most important divisional game for the Cowboys in several years. First place in the division (and in the NFC) on the line in primetime against your arch rival. What more could you want (probably your starting QB to be healthy, but I digress)? We’ll do this again next week.
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